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Signs of Our Times .... the People's Climate March

“It’s already hot enough in NC”

“April is the new August”

“91 degrees in April. SAD!”

It was fitting that the temperature for the Climate march was record-setting hot. Nearly 200,000 people (twice as many as expected) milled about, wilted and eventually marched together. There were posters showing threatened grizzly bear cubs and emaciated polar bears, and one that showed a yawning cracked ice sheet in Antarctica. Ben and Jerry’s had trucks there, with a sign that said “If it’s melted, it’s ruined.”

One 32-year old clean energy expert said, “This march is another reminder that policies being dismantled quietly are critical and important. We have to be heard because climate change is real.” His mother told me quietly he isn’t married yet, but she came for her (hoped for) grandchildren. One chant of “this is what democracy looks like,” came out of a few mouths as “this is what heat stroke looks like.”

“Water is Life”

“There are no Jobs on a Dead Planet”

“Go Fact Yourself”

We’re getting good at marches again. First you find a tribe or two you can march with and make a plan to connect, and a plan B for when you get lost in the swaths of protesters. You get out your bag, which is pre-packed with hand sanitizer and tissues for the port-o-potty, a $20 bill, a BPA-free, refillable water bottle and a travel-size phone charger. You make a mental note of good hash tags. You haul out your sign-making stuff, and dream up a couple of choice phrases. You put money on your metro card.

A 70-year old retired science teacher said “I go to all the marches now.” The international consultant she was with nodded “I hope this builds momentum and wakes up people who are on the fence.”

“Repair, Reuse, Recycle, Resist”

“At the Beginning of Each Disaster Movie there’s a Scientist who was Ignored.”

“Republicans for a Carbon Tax”

Groups are getting really good at them too. The Climate march was almost a year in the making, and it showed. They arranged us all in communities, like regiments with memes marching up Pennsylvania Avenue. When the advance guard got to the White House, an order filtered back and we all sat down, a massive instant sit-in all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue. Then came an enormous collective shout before the marchers stretched out and circled the White House. The National Park Service has 33 permits for marches yet to come in 2017.

Three college students made the trek from coal (a.k.a. Trump) country. A biology major told me what she most worries about is livestock, because it takes too many resources to raise them. “I want more vegetarians,” she said. Her friend said she most worries about the disease that is killing bats. “Everything is at risk with climate change.” Their friend said he was most worried about cap and trade, which he thinks won’t reduce overall carbon emissions.

“Mar a Lago Will Soon be Just Mar”

“Hey Trump! Save the Earth, it has the Most Beautiful Chocolate Cake!”

“I Stand with Pope Francis on Climate Change”

While people kept streaming in and we waited to move, there was laughter and a spirit of determination, as in: if we have to, we’ll march every week. There was also a sense of learning from history, being buoyed by the old songs we all know the words to, and of the new age, with the very real power of social media to amplify impact. One woman told me the only thing Trump has done she did not oppose was change his mind on NAFTA. Maybe it was just too hot to get angry and vent about Trump. The guys hawking memorabilia got no takers with the “Love Hates Trump” button. But every wave of people marching by the Trump Hotel booed and chanted.

One man said, “Trump has no principles. He’ll do whatever makes him popular.” He hoped the more people march, the more likely he’ll change his mind (and take credit for the idea).

“Truth Springs from the Earth and Righteousness Shall Look Down from Heaven,” Psalm 85

“I’m With Her” (arrow to picture of planet)

“Keep and till. Protect and cultivate. Preserve and steward.” Genesis 2: 15

Marches are profoundly hopeful, rooted in the belief that no administration can ignore this many people, and that respectful, peaceful collective demonstrations build momentum towards social and policy change. A dozen people from St. Columba’s Episcopal Church joined the “Keeper’s of the Faith” community, situated between the “Defenders of the Truth” and “Reshapers of Power.” Nearby were the Pagans, who came with drums. The Episcopalians included a carload of young people from Arkansas, a group that bicycled through cold rain and unseasonable heat all the way from Western Massachusetts, and a minister from Nebraska. She explained that climate change is not a partisan or a liberal/conservative issue where she comes from. “We have a tradition of conserving the land. But we all see the changes. Hunting seasons don’t synch anymore with when the animals are around.”

Finally, a slight blond girl with shorts and a ponytail showed me her sign, which read, “I want my snow days back.” The back said: “May the Facts be With You.” She’s 10 and this is her third march.

Shelly Gehshan © 2017

Ms Gehshan was a staff member of the original Austin Sun. She has worked in health policy and nonprofit management for 30 years and is now a career coach. She started her career in journalism and public affairs.


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