If you weren’t in New York City last weekend, think yourself back into the largest crowd you have ever been a part of.

Imagine that multitude frozen in absolute silence and funneled out onto the streets of many Manhattan blocks.

Your silent crowd stretches out of site, off into a city mist. Most everyone hold their hands to the sky. In the silence you can hear traffic from blocks away, birds chirping, helicopters above. You can taste body heat on a cool day.

As striking as the silence itself was for the 400,000-plus who attended the People’s Climate March, what it symbolized, hopefully, carried an even greater impact.

The march’s moment of silence was from those who have died from the increasingly common “climate impacts” ravaging communities: the ever-increasing super-typhoons and super-storms, droughts and floods. New Yorkers throughout the march held cardboard life preservers with the names of neighborhoods devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Activists from the Philippines Movement for Climate Justice called attention to their country, where entire towns were lost to one of strongest typhoons in recorded history last year. The storm, Typhoon Haiyan made landfall 11 months after Typhoon Bopha, another record breaking cyclone that also claimed thousands of lives in the Philippines.

The silence, and the march on the whole, was a reminder for anyone who needed it: The climate has changed, unheeded warnings are presently unfolding into an unaddressed crisis. The silence spoke to that crisis and echoed the relative silence and inaction on climate change by the global political powers.

What followed the two minutes of silence on the streets of Manhattan was a wave of noise began from the back of the march, swallowing the silence. All 400,000 of us clapped, clamored, stamped, and screamed. The people on the streets of New York, united both in silence and screams, demanded that the governments of the world start halting fossil fuel extraction and stop stalling the transition to a more just and sustainable world. In indignance and frustration, those in the streets made themselves heard and let each other know that they are not alone.

Though any section of the march would have filled me, I was all the more uplifted chanting and marching with COA students and alumni. Seventy-seven members of current COA community drove down to New York, the largest student turnout for any rally, protest or conference, of any kind, in at least five years.

Dedicated, most of the students drove down Saturday and drove back up to Bar Harbor after the march into the last hours of Sunday night. While most of the 77 marched with the other 50,000 students, those of us involved in Earth in Brackets rallied with the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, a network movements and organizations engaged in many struggles that have taken the climate crisis as their common cause.

The People’s Climate March was not only the largest climate change rally to date — four times larger than the protests in Copenhagen — but also was the most inclusive of any protest backed by major nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

The march’s tagline — “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone” — was reflected not only in the crowds but also in the organizers recruitment efforts in New York City that started six months ago. Affected New Yorkers, community groups, indigenous people and interfaith organizations were among the groups recruited with the help of over 200 organizations, most of which were based out of New York. Stopping to watch the crowds pass the separate protest blocs looked like the blocs of a parade. Watching social media streams over the weekend one could be inundated by photos and videos taken at the more than 2,646 solidarity events that took place in 162 different countries.

The march, with its magical mix of protest seriousness and parade exuberance, and the other protests that happened that weekend were, above all else, hopeful. Not perfect, not beyond critique, and not by itself world changing, but still encouraging.

It was a show of political force at a time where inaction remains the agenda for the most political powers.

The march was the sort of experience I believe students ought to be provided while in college — the experience of participating in political action on grave matters that the official institutions are not addressing.

The present generation is the first generation to experience climate impacts; we are also the last generation, the scientific community warns, that may be able to stave off global catastrophe.

If we do need to change everything, we need more readiness to protest and a greater culture of activism, today more than ever.

Lucas Burdick, of Ithaca, N.Y., is a fourth-year student and a member of the College of the Atlantic student environmental group Earth in Brackets.

 


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