This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like

The People’s Climate March was a huge success, with 400,000 people on the streets of New York City and more worldwide. It was the kind of thing that still felt surreal even a few days later, when I would see subway posters advertising the march.

Poster on the subway

Being part of the march was an incredible experience on a scale larger than anything I’ve been a part of before. I marched with the Canadian groups in the anti-Tarsands section beside Central Park at 81st St (the march started at 59th St). There was so much art, signs, a marching band and even the ‘Butterflies against the end of the world’ who took part in a street theatre piece with the herd of people dressed as caribou.

The Tarsands contingent

At one point during the morning after the march had started, when we hadn’t even started moving yet, our experience of the march became low-fi as cell phone reception became overwhelmed and Twitter stopped loading. When we had been standing and waiting for more than an hour without moving yet, we realized the march was probably huge – when we hit two hours without moving we knew the march was really huge.

I think the most incredible moment from the march came during the minute of silence for the victims of climate change. At 12.58pm (ostensibly when the march was supposed to have finished, but we were still in the start area) a message started coming down the crowd – the minute of silence is about to begin. Then, incredibly, people started raising their hands in the air and stopped talking all the way along Central Park West, through the march route to the end point in Hells Kitchen; the crowd actually fell silent for a full minute.

At the hour, the climate alarm was sounded as a call to action, and standing near 81st St, I felt a wave of sound coming up the street towards us, as the alarm was sounded and everyone began to join in. The experience of almost half a million people, all coming together on the same issue and working together is hard to describe, but you can see some of it in the wrap-up video from Connect4Climate below.

As amazing and energizing as the experience of being part of the march was; it’s what we do now with this momentum that is most important. The last time I was involved with a protest of this size and scale was in the mid-2000s when the conservative government in Australia attempted to introduce anti-union legislation called WorkChoices. I marched with my family in Melbourne as over 100,000 people around the country mobilized against the legislation. In Melbourne we filled the march route all the way to the football stadium. Ultimately, public resistance to WorkChoices was a key factor in the conservatives loosing the next federal election and losing power after 11 years in government.

The anti-WorkChoices march in Melbourne, November 2005 (Wikimedia commons)

If 100,000 people on the streets in Australia were enough to bring down a government two years later, what can 400,000 people on the streets of New York City accomplish?

The answer to that question is up to the climate movement. I think one of the great strengths of the People’s Climate March was the depth and breadth of the groups that were involved and the connections that were made through the organizing process.

People stood shoulder-to-shoulder and talked about what they were working on and shared stories. I chatted with a woman from Bold Nebraska about pipelines, a guy from the east about maple syrup and a family from upstate New York who wanted their kids to experience such a large-scale mobilization (wearing a t-shirt that says ‘CANADA’ is a conversation starter).

Myself and campaigner Tzeporah Berman.

We need to take these newfound friends and memories now and turn them into a deeper, broader, stronger climate movement. As the tagline for the march said: to change everything, we need everyone and for action on climate, that has never been truer.

images via (cc) Amy Huva