Hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of New York City on Sunday calling for “climate justice” in the largest mass protest to date against government and corporate inaction to limit the overheating of the planet. Organizers of the People’s Climate March claimed that in addition to the New York march some 2,676 other demonstrations were held in 146 countries, including a march of 30,000 people in London that was televised to the New York crowd on a giant screen set up on Sixth Avenue at 52nd Street. “We said it would take everyone to change everything, and everyone showed up,” said Eddie Bautista, the executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, one of the central groups that organized the march.
The march featured an unprecedented diversity of participants, including many thousands of union members as well as representatives from indigenous people’s organizations, students and faith groups, and even a contingent of business types marching behind an “Investors for Climate Solutions” banner. Proceeding without any violence under a muggy, cloudy sky, the demonstration kicked off Climate Week in New York City. World leaders, including President Obama, will gather at the United Nations on Tuesday for a one-day climate summit intended to build momentum toward signing an ambitious global agreement at the UN climate conference in Paris in 2015. On Monday, protesters plan to “Flood Wall Street” to demand that investors shift assets from climate-destructive fossil fuels to solar, wind and other forms of clean energy.
Some big investors will beat “Flood Wall Street” to the punch: on Monday, a collection of institutional investors that manage $50 billion among themselves will announce that they will divest entirely from fossil fuels. Prominent among the group is the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, whose assets were accumulated by the Rockefeller family’s many decades of producing petroleum, first under the Standard Oil brand and later under Exxon. “John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, moved America out of whale oil and into petroleum,” explained Stephen Heintz, President of the Fund. “We are quite convinced that if he were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”
“One announcement alone isn’t going to tip the balance, but when one announcement is followed by another and then another, that gets CEOs to pay attention,” Tom Steyer, the billionaire climate activist who has funded numerous electoral campaigns on behalf of climate action, told The Nation. “CEOs pay a lot of attention to their shareholders, just like everyone pays attention to what their boss thinks. So actions like this send a powerful message.”
Visually, the most striking aspect of the People’s Climate March was its racial diversity and preponderance of young people. The first line of marchers to head south from Columbus Circle were fifteen high school and college age youths, nearly all of them African-American or Latino, wearing orange T-shirts that announced they represented the Rockaway Youth Task Force. Rockaway, a peninsula in Queens that borders the Atlantic Ocean, was brutalized by Hurricane Sandy in November 2012; some residents at the march carried signs asserting that they had been left without electricity for fifteen days after the storm, even as Wall Street was back up and running in seventy-two hours. The highlighting of so-called “front-line communities” was international: later in the march, protesters carried blue umbrellas, two storeys high, with the names of other people and places that have been displaced by climate violence: “Island Nations,” “Public Housing,” “People of Color,” “Renters.”