What Democracy Looks Like: a 20-something's account of the #ForwardonClimate Rally
“Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, KXL has got to go!” were two of my favorite chants from my first rally. On Sunday, February 17, 2013, I traveled with Delaware Sierra Club and a student group I was involved with at the University of Delaware, Students for the Environment, to Washington, D.C. to urge President Obama to move “Forward on Climate.”
The idea behind Forward on Climate, organized by 350.org and the Sierra Club, is to call on Barack Obama to lead on climate and take responsibility as President of the United States to move beyond coal and natural gas, ignite a clean energy economy, limit carbon pollution from dirty power plants and most importantly, reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
Accepting tar sands oil from Canada through the Keystone XL pipeline has been called “game over for climate” by James Hansen, climatologist, activist and head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Tar sands oil is considered “tough” or “unconventional” oil, which requires more water and energy than conventional oil extraction. Producing a barrel of oil from the oil sands produces three times more greenhouse gas emissions than a barrel of conventional oil.
I joined Forward on Climate because I want the man I voted for in my first election and in the 2012 election to leave a legacy of change, and begin solving the climate crisis. I want President Obama to end fracking and mountaintop removal and reject Keystone XL, so I hopped on a bus to DC.
The bus we took from Delaware was one of 120 buses from all over the United States traveling to the nation’s capital for what was supposed to be “the largest climate change rally in history.” On the bus, we were all excited and had no idea what to expect; we picked out our signs and talked about recent eco-political news (Obama’s nomination for the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, John Kerry as Secretary of State).
We arrived to a sunny, but brisk day in Washington, D.C. As the bus pulled up near the Washington Monument, we could already see signs from environmentalists coming from as far as Maine and Kentucky. Following the crowds, we began walking toward the Monument, taking part in small “pump-up” rallies along the way. One group of students even brought a speaker that was carted around blasting Dubstep.
The rally spot on the field near the National Monument quickly filled with tons and tons of people. It was hard to determine just how many of us there were. We listened with starry eyes to the inspiring Bill McKibben say “All I ever wanted was to see a movement of people to stop climate change and now I see it,” a statement that was met with loud cheers.
Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, Van Jones, Rebuild the Dream President, and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse also spoke at the rally before the march yesterday. It was refreshing to hear a climate hawk who also happened to be a politician. One of my favorite moments from yesterday was when a Red-tailed Hawk actually flew over the stage. It made me feel like the rest of my climate hawk friends who couldn’t make the rally were with us in spirit.
Maria T. Cardona, Lationvations Founder and the Rev. Leenox Yearwood, Hip Hop Caucus President and CEO kept the momentum going throughout the rally. First Nation women, Chief Jacqueline Thomas (Saik’uz First Nation) and Crystal Lameman (Beaver Lake Cree First Nations) informed the massive crowd of their heritage and culture and the intimate connection their people have with the land. I was also pleasantly surprised to hear California billionaire, Thomas Steyer, passionately describe the Keystone XL pipeline as a “bad investment.” I was glad to see an economic perspective during the rally, to help strengthen our argument.
After the rally was over, we took to the pavement shouting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people that were so passionate and invested in the health of the planet and the future of energy in America. The Occupy Movement had a heavy presence, as well as representatives from over 160 environmental groups from across the country. I was so happy to see ralliers from the Appalachian community speaking out against mountaintop removal, shouting “mountains are for climbing, stop the mining!”
In an e-mail from Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director, he said, “They said we’d never get 10,000 on a frigid February day. Our staff laughed and said we’d get 25,000. Then you laughed and sent more than 40,000.” I am proud to say that I was part of the largest climate rally in history, one of more than 45,000 on the National Mall yesterday.
Across the country, there were also “solidarity rallies” taking place, for those environmentalists who want to speak out for climate action, but could not make it to Washington, D.C. Over 20 rallies happened in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington State. More than one million online activists joined in on Thunderclap! too, solidified the message to President Obama: we want to move climate forward.
Our voice was so loud, that despite typical business as usual and climate silence throughout the national media, Forward on Climate broke through:
Some National News:
- NBC News
- The Weather Channel, tonight (2/18) at 6 PM
- News 10 ABC
- USA Today
- ABC 7
- The Washington Post, Health and Science (!!!)
- The Washington Post, Business
- Huffington Post Green
Some International News:
- The Globe and Mail, Ottawa, Canada
- Le Monde, largest newspaper in France, front page
- International Herald Tribute
I vote, volunteer and work for the environment, but my voice for the planet has never been louder than it was yesterday, one of the 45,000 voices shouting together for climate action.