“Hey hey ho ho climate change has got to go!”
Chants and drums rang through the streets of downtown Washington, D.C. yesterday afternoon during the peak of rush hour traffic. About 500 people gathered from different sectors, advocacy groups, and areas of the region to rally around the fight for climate and social justice as a part of the People’s Climate Movement’s National Day of Action. Protesters held a die-in in front of the American Petroleum Institute, staged a short performance about the role big oil companies play in U.S. politics and economy, marched to Freedom Plaza to hear speeches from local leaders, and stood in solidarity and hope for global climate change justice.
D.C. was one of 170 communities in 47 states that protested on Wednesday for sustainable, just, and inclusive economies. People rallied to demand stronger action on climate from political leaders and called out corporations and institutions that are blocking economic and political progress on climate change, such as the American Petroleum Institute.
“We had all of the segments of D.C. here, from all over the city and from all over the region coming together showing the beautiful face of what it looks like to have a unified climate movement,” Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, told ThinkProgress.
Last year’s People’s Climate March in New York brought in over 400,000 people and was the largest climate march in history. This year’s focus was on the localization of climate change impacts, giving communities across the nation the ability to voice the injustices they have personally faced with climate change. People from a range of sectors were represented in these protests, including youth, social and racial justice leaders, workers, mothers, faith leaders, and environmentalists. The People’s Climate Movement’s logic is “to change everything, it takes everyone.”
“This year is a really great follow up to what happened last year,” Marissa Knodel, Climate campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said at the rally in D.C. “What we have this year sends a really strong message. Climate change impacts every single corner of our country and our globe and that’s what you are seeing this year. You’re seeing how different cities are rallying around the issues that are affecting them locally.”
On Wednesday, activists paddled down the Missouri River and marched to Gov. Jay Nixon’s office in Jefferson City to deliver a petition calling for carbon emission cuts in Missouri. Protesters in Seattle, Washington, marched the main streets and watched a screening of “This Changes Everything,” with author and science historian Naomi Klein. Groups in Orlando, Florida, spent the afternoon outside the offices of Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio to demand bold climate action. Faith leaders in Florence, South Carolina examined the connection between the state’s recent historic flooding and climate change during an event. Colleges and universities across the country also took part in voicing their demands for climate and worker rights.
— Carolyn Amparan (@CarolynAmparan) October 14, 2015
“The point really is that climate change is a concern for people all across the spectrum — it is not just an elite group of folks that are concerned about the Rocky Mountains,” David Mott from property services workers union 32BJ SEIU said at D.C.’s rally. He brought his guitar along to the rally and played music during the die-in at API and at the end of the event.
“[Climate change] is the concern of workers, it is a concern for people of color, it is a concern for indigenous people, it is a concern for everybody,” he said. “Part of this movement is saying that the costs of climate change cannot be worn on the backs of working people. These guys that created it, they have to pay the costs of cleaning up their mess.”
Groups like the Mom’s Clean Air Force, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sustain US, Energy Justice Network, D.C. Power, U.S. Climate Action Network, and many others also played key roles in delivering the message.
“We need to be holding corporations that limit our resources accountable for environmental destruction and impact on front-line communities of real people who deserve access to clean air and water and who matter,” said Ruth Tyson during her speech in D.C.’s Freedom Plaza. Tyson is Prince George’s County’s Environmental Justice Organizer for the Environmental Justice Network. Her county is already facing side-effects of burning fossil fuels and increased health risks, she said.
“In our fight for justice, we must constantly be asking ourselves who is being left out, or who will feel the impact of the decisions we make today,” Tyson said. “This means not just considering them in the movement, but having them at the table.”
The event was timed between Pope Francis’ visit to the United States — during which he addressed climate change and broad social issues in front of a joint session of Congress — and the Paris climate talks happening this December. Climate action is still largely looked at as a partisan issue — just this past Friday Republican-led House of Representatives voted to lift the oil export ban.
“There are consequences to blocking action of climate change and there are consequences to climate denial, actual people are getting hurt,” said Keya Chatterjee. “People in our communities are getting hurt and we’re not going to stand for it anymore. Places like the American Petroleum Institute have got to get out of the way.”
Overall, the crowd and organizers emphasized the need to be hopeful and the importance of the national action day.
“Movements change politics,” said Chatterjee. “We need three things to get action on climate change: we need an activist minority, a permissive majority, and political leadership. What we’re showing in the People’s Climate Movement is that not only do we have an activist minority, but it is broad, it is across all demographics, and it is not going away. We are in every community in this country; we are here and we are not going away and nothing is going to make us give up.”