A year and a half ago we shivered by the Washington monument in a crowd that—at 40,000—was larger than we could see or wrap our minds around. It was the largest climate rally in history. Yet it was only one-fifth the size of the March on Washington for civil rights in 1963. I wondered if it was too few, too late.
At yesterday’s People’s Climate March through midtown Manhattan, no panorama from any helicopter could capture the mass of those cramming the streets from Central Park to Times Square and beyond. The organizers expected 100,000. Conservative early estimates said 311,000. Later these were raised to 400,000. Meanwhile, in 2808 cities in 166 countries, similar gatherings marched. This rivals the increase from a well-watered summer garden.
The Faith Communities contingent alone filled 9th Avenue from 58th to 59th before we joined the march—Buddhists, Muslims, Presbyterians, Zoroastrians (yes), Jews, Unitarians, Seekers, Catholics, even Athiests. We heard the ram’s horn, we sang Siyahamba—“We are marching in the light of God”—we prayed. As we passed the southern border of Central Park, a large group of meditators held vigil. Above our heads, in building after building, friends waved and held signs. We could believe sanity might finally prevail; science might finally be heard.
That evening at an interfaith service at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, under the outstretched wings of two glittering phoenixes constructed of recycled industrial debris, worldwide religious leaders spoke passionately, leading us to come forward to recommit our work for climate justice: Dr. James Forbes, writer Terry Tempest Williams, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Rev. Jim Wallis, Vice President Al Gore, UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson, Union Seminary president Dr. Serene Jones, and many others.
The most heart-wrenching: Father Edwin Gariguez of Caritas in the Philippines described the relentless destruction there, Manilla submerged again this week under another tropical storm. “Uncle” (Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq), an Eskimo shaman, said the glaciers of Greenland having shrunk from 5 kilometers deep to 2 kilometers in his lifetime, and yet we must still melt the ice in the human heart.
Changing our petroleum-soaked collective ways doesn’t require everyone’s agreement, but it does take enough melted hearts, enough open eyes, enough clear minds, enough moral authority, to brand boundless petroleum, gas, and coal production as shameful, like chattel slavery; toxic river dumping repulsive, like child molestation, and brazen politicking for corporate misbehavior unacceptable, like flag burning. In 2013 in the U.S., the fossil fuel industry received $21.6 billion in government subsidies.
We paid this. And that didn’t count the taxpayers’ bill for climate-change-related disaster clean-up and healthcare costs. The least we can do, for starters, is to stop paying Exxon and BP for killing us, and charge them instead.
Will we have to return in 2015 with two million people? It seems we could, but what if we stopped having to oppose the powerful and start working together, rebuilding a society in which all creation rises out of our ashes?