A march becomes a movement

It’s hard to believe that a year ago I was standing in the streets of Manhattan, waiting to take part in what became the largest march for climate action in history as 400,000 people from across the globe filled New York City for the People’s Climate March.

One of the defining successes of the People’s Climate March was its diversity. Traditional environmental organizations teamed up with union, justice, faith, civil rights, indigenous and many other groups (upwards of 1,000, by one count) to draw one of the largest crowds in the climate movement’s history. This kind of big tent approach, or “movement of movements” as it’s been called, is a fairly new approach to climate advocacy and yet already seeing success in other places, such as Toronto this summer. At its core is the idea that climate change touches our lives in many ways, depending on who we are, where we live, how we work and a bunch of other factors. Climate change amplifies existing social and economic inequities that are being challenged by groups around the world, and is connected to some of the fundamental problems with current economic approaches in North America, Europe and beyond. By acknowledging the intersection between traditional climate issues (environmental degradation, etc.) and human impacts (health risks, job insecurity, food shortages, forced migration, community resilience, etc.), a greater number of voices and issues are acknowledged in the call for climate action and the movement becomes larger, more human and increasingly decentralized.

The 2014 march was led by indigenous leaders and community groups from areas hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy only two years earlier, while local ‘bus captains’ brought people from afar to New York City and made sure there was a diversity of voices in the planning and execution of the day. After building such strong cross-movement relationships for the People’s Climate March, the organizers have continued working for climate action under the banner of the People’s Climate Movement. The Movement has been busy this year in the lead-up to the UN Paris negotiations with projects like the People’s Climate Music, which is leading an Act on Climate national bus tour through urban communities of colour disproportionately affected by air pollution caused by fossil fuel energy production.

As the related divestment movement has grown from university campuses to being mentioned by the head of the Bank of England, the People’s Climate Movement is gearing up for a National Day of Action on October 14th calling for a sustainable, democratic and just economy that preserves our planet. Many facets of society and climate action are being represented by those participating, including a coalition of union groups, 350.org, the Alliance for a Greater New York, Avaaz, the Blue Green Alliance, Center for Community Change, Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Justice Alliance, GreenFaith, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, Oil Change International, Responsible Endowment Coalition, Sierra Club, Student Divestment Network, UPROSE and the US Climate Action Network.

Events are being planned across North America to demand stronger action on climate change, but also to start a conversation about how a world without fossil fuels will benefit everyone. AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer for Washington State Lynne Dodson spoke in a press call this week about the need for a just transition for workers in fossil fuel jobs to employment that is both economically and environmentally sustaining. Those who want to participate should check out the People’s Climate Movement toolkit for ideas on how to use social media, art and culture to get involved.

The past 12 months have been a time of great change in the larger climate movement. Extreme weather events keep coming faster and stronger, but more than that, there’s been an undercurrent of feeling the momentum starting to shift. I’ve had several conversations with people where they’ve said they can feel this undercurrent of change – you can’t quite put a finger on it yet, but it feels like we’re living the transition point.

One of the most exciting things about a collective future is that we all get to create it together, and on October 14th the People’s Climate Movement will be taking actions across North America to help people tell the story of what they want the future to look like in their communities.

image via (cc) People's Climate Movement