Photo Credit: Shadia Fayne Wood
Over 400,000 marching – more than three times the expected number! Some were actually finishing the march at the same time others were beginning. This extraordinary turnout might be attributed to the distributed organizing strategy, with 1574 participating organizations, or the inclusive and empowering messaging. I believe a key component was a growing common urgency in the populace, as people realize that climate change touches everyone and its already here. The question I asked myself was, what does our movement need now?
I personally felt a call to action: to strengthen ties among people across all of our struggles, to uplift common threads to find common strategy, and to ensure the systems we rebuild address disparities and support empowerment of the people.
Youth, I believe, hear this call and are already playing a critical role in the movement, bringing innovation, optimism, and tenacity to systemic puzzles, asking hard questions to challenge the disparities reinforced by business as usual, and challenging themselves to take up leadership on tough issues where they see a void.
Something I am most proud of is the value young leaders now often place on leadership by people most impacted, and their courage in dissolving the artificial divisions and assumptions that cement the destructive status quo. Now coming together across race and class and identity is an expectation, not a footnote, and conflict is something to be worked through with respect and care, not something to shy away from. This was reflected in the youth convergence the day before. Reportedly 50,000 college students were out there in the street, though there were also many others who were younger, or not in higher education, who marched as well and are a critical part of the climate movement.
How serious will international leaders be about alleviating risks to vulnerable communities and empowering them to have agency in reinforcing their own resilience? I don’t know. If taking to the streets in mass has any impact, we can take hope in the collective message coming from 2646 marches across the world in 162 countries. We can also take hope in the power of a mother’s words to her daughter and to all of us: two days after the People’s Climate March, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner of the Marshall Islands delivered a poem to leaders at the UN Climate Summit, leaving them in a standing ovation.
Amplified in her words and echoed on film were the hundreds of thousands I was among but could hardly comprehend. She helped me to make the connections in my heart and mind to all those I walked beside, in flesh and spirit. Thank you Kathy and baby Matafele Peinem.
Thinking about what the movement needs, I lean back on the guidance offered by a Minneapolis based artist and amplifier of social justice, Ricardo Levins Morales, who says the health of a movement can be measured by its clarity, capacity, and unity. On the one hand you could say the movement is still victim to the divisions that keep the status quo in place. On the other, you could say that the veil is lifting and people are starting to see and feel the “one struggle” that ties us together.
Passing Central Park in the crowd, I saw a young black man playing a drum on the sidewalk with a coin cup and cardboard sign on the ground in front of him: “The Struggle is Real.” This helped me not to forget that there is real work to be done and I need to hold myself accountable to the dream of collective liberation wherever I am, marching in the streets of New York, organizing on the ground in Minneapolis, networking with youth across the nation, or celebrating life with all my relations.