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The 'Largest March for Climate Action in World History' Is Coming to New York

Permit or no, tens of thousands of people will pour through the streets of New York City come September.

by Brian Merchant
Jul 31 2014, 5:10pm

350.org / Flickr

On September 21st, the "largest march for climate action in world history" will pour through the streets of New York City, according to its organizers. Yesterday, in Times Square, representatives from top environmental groups, unions, and religious groups announced the plans for the incoming People's Climate March.

"I will confidently say that I will be surprised if we don't top 50,000 people," Jamie Henn, the communications director of 350.org, one of the groups organizing, told me. 

And that number seems to be on the conservative side: Over 500 organizations, including 44 local and national labor unions, have committed to attending the march, elements of Occupy Wall Street are on board, and I've been hearing buzz about the event through unrelated channels for over a month now. I know a number of people who will be traveling from Canada and the West Coast to join. 

"We're aiming big," Henn said. And he has reason to believe it will be. "When it comes to climate, the biggest march was in February in 2013, in the freezing cold in DC, with about 50,000 people. And that came together in a matter of weeks in the middle of winter. That moment made us realize that climate movement could scale."

To bolster turnout, and to diversify environmentalists' approach to climate change, Henn and others are working more closely with labor, faith groups, and social justice organizations. The green movement is often criticized for catering to the interests of white, well-off liberals, but the coalition here is diverse and largely working-class. 

"Climate change has already begun to affect our members and the communities where they live, through increased asthma rates, skyrocketing energy costs due to extreme weather, and flooding and home damage from super storms," Héctor Figueroa, President of 32BJ SEIU, said at the rally yesterday. The impacts of climate change will hit the most vulnerable hardest, after all, a fact of which many unions and religious leaders are keenly aware.

"The People's Climate March is an opportunity to make it clear that climate change is something that working families want to see addressed by our elected leaders," he said. "We will be out in force on September 21st."

Anarchist groups have gotten wind of the event, too, and are planning on attending in a decidedly less organized fashion. AnarchistNews.com put out a call for an "anti-capitalist bloc at the People's March," which included the following entreaty: "While we stand completely opposed to the Green Capitalist alternative that these NGOs and politicians are demanding, we do not want to let this golden opportunity pass us to once again spread anarchy through New York Fucking City and beyond." They will no doubt be a small minority, however.

"The primary aim is to build the political power of the climate movement," Henn said. "We want to put climate change back in the spotlight and we want to do it in a different way. It's not just a niche, middle-upper class issue. We want to frame it so politicians see it as a crisis they have to deal with."

The march will take place two days before President Obama comes to New York for the UN's annual climate summit. Organizers want the march to begin in Columbus Circle, wind through Times Square, and head downtown. 

There is a looming issue: Right now, the march doesn't have a permit. Organizers are trying to change that, and are calling on the de Blasio administration to "step up" and work with them to create a safe route for the march.

"This is a huge opportunity for Mayor de Blasio," Henn said. "We think this is to the city's advantage." Climate change is a major social justice issue, and this is a chance for the city to highlight the work it's doing on both, he said. But it's eight weeks and counting, and come September 21st, there will be tens of thousands of people gathered in Manhattan. Permit or no, the people will march. "In the end, we can just march through the streets of New York." 

"There's a part of the American psyche that gets activated by major marches," Henn said. "People can look and say, 'I want to be a part of history,' and we're giving them that opportunity."

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