People’s Climate March draws 200,000 protesters as Trump flees to coal country

What environmental protest?

Demonstrators sit on the ground along Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, April 29, 2017, during a demonstration and march. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Demonstrators sit on the ground along Pennsylvania Ave. in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, April 29, 2017, during a demonstration and march. CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was hot. Of course it was hot.

But the mood in the nation’s capital was surprisingly upbeat for a gathering of an estimated 200,000 people who are deeply worried about the future of their communities and humanity’s relationship with our host planet.

A man wearing a papier-mâché “King Trump” head took swings at a globe golf ball. Preppy dudes walked around with signs questioning fossil fuel financing. Iraq veterans stood alongside other frontline groups in the fight for a clean environment. The Standing Rock water protectors were there. Moms Clean Air Force, Tina Fey, Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA) were there. Leonardo DiCaprio was there.

President Donald Trump — the real version — was not. While the Citizen’s Climate March stretched down Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump used his one hundredth day in office to travel to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania for a rally with his supporters, where he will undoubtedly tout his new energy policies.

On Friday, Trump teed up the climate-focused weekend with an executive order that opens the Arctic Ocean to drilling and exposes the Eastern Seaboard to oil exploration. A month ago, he issued a sweeping energy and environment order undoing many of the previous administration’s progress on climate. Trump promised the move would bring back coal jobs to areas like Harrisburg, but it is expected to do more for coal executives than workers.

It has not been a good 100 days for the environment.

But the 2017 People’s Climate March was in the works even before Trump was elected. It follows a 2014 march that turned out 400,000 people in New York City, during the height of the battle over the Keystone XL Pipeline, and was expected to be an opportunity to push the (Hillary) Clinton administration towards clean energy and greater environmental progress. Trump’s election certainly changed the objective. Since then, the Keystone XL permit rejection has been reversed by the Trump administration. Programs that support energy efficiency and clean energy are facing draconian budget cuts, and the White House has issued order after order propping up fossil fuel development.

CREDIT: Samantha Page/ThinkProgress
CREDIT: Samantha Page/ThinkProgress

“Six months ago, my kids woke up to half a foot of water in our living room,” Cherri Foytlin, director of BOLD Louisiana and spokesperson for the Indigenous Environmental Network, said in a statement. “Now, Trump wants to open up the Gulf Coast to even more offshore drilling. But we have a message for him: we are not afraid, and we will not stop fighting. With 100-and 500-year storms now coming every year, we are fighting for our lives.”

Indeed, the march turned into a de facto anti-Trump demonstration, especially in some of its other iterations in 350 cities across the country. In New York, thousands showed up for the “100 days of failure” march.

With all that in mind, it was a little surprising even more people didn’t come to Washington this weekend. People in the crowd — many of whom attended the Women’s March in January — occasionally expressed disappointment that more people weren’t there. (For what it’s worth, attendees were still streaming towards Pennsylvania Avenue well after the march officially began). Organizers estimated that 200,000 attended in Washington, D.C. and called it a “huge success.” It’s hard to predict or plan when a march will capture the zeitgeist, but since Trump took office, many on the left have felt like there has been an unending stream of attacks.

“A lot of these issues are intersectional,” Crystal Cravens, an Iraq war veteran, told ThinkProgress. “It’s not just about one thing.” Cravens and her fellow veterans were marching to encourage Trump to pull out of wars they say are being fought to help protect America’s dependence on fossil fuels. And as a black woman, Cravens pointed out that her community is on the front lines of climate change.

“Climate change is directly [related] to the oppression of black and brown people,” she said. “When the food shortage comes, we are already redlining in our communities, so it is going to hit us hardest.”

So while Trump heads off to greet his supporters, it’s unlikely his environmental opponents will back down anytime soon.