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Less than two weeks have passed and yet it isn’t too early to say it: the People’s Climate March changed the social map—many maps, in fact, since hundreds of smaller marches took place in 162 countries. That march in New York City, spectacular as it may have been with its 400,000 participants, joyous as it was, moving as it was (slow-moving, actually, since it filled more than a mile’s worth of wide avenues and countless side streets), was no simple spectacle for a day. It represented the upwelling of something that matters so much more: a genuine global climate movement.
When I first heard the term “climate movement” a year ago, as a latecomer to this developing tale, I suspected the term was extravagant, a product of wishful thinking. I had, after all, seen a few movements in my time (and participated in several). I knew something of what they felt like and looked like—and this, I felt, wasn’t it.
I knew, of course, that there were climate-related organizations, demonstrations, projects, books, magazines, tweets, and for an amateur, I was reasonably well read on “the issues,” but I didn’t see, hear or otherwise sense that intangible, polymorphous, transformative presence that adds up to a true, potentially society-changing movement.
It seemed clear enough then: I could go about most of my life without brushing up against it. Now, call me a convert, but it’s here; it’s big; it’s real; it matters.
There is today a climate movement as there was a civil rights movement and an antiwar movement and a women’s liberation movement and a gay rights movement—each of them much more than its component actions, moments, slogans, proposals, names, projects, issues, demands (or, as we say today, having grown more polite, “asks”); each of them a culture, or an intertwined set of cultures; each of them a political force in the broadest as well as the narrowest sense; each generating the wildest hopes and deepest disappointments. Climate change is now one of them: a burgeoning social fact.
The extraordinary range, age and diversity exhibited in the People’s Climate March—race, class, sex, you name it, and if you were there, you saw it—changes the game. The phalanxes of unions, indigenous and religious groups, and all manner of local activists in New York formed an extraordinary mélange. There were hundreds and hundreds of grassroots groups on the move—or forced to stand still for hours on end, waiting for the immense throng, hemmed in by police barricades, to find room to walk, let alone march. At least in the area that I could survey—I was marching with the Divest Harvard group, alongside Mothers Out Front—opposition to fracking seemed like the most common thread. And the only audible appeal to a politician I heard was a clamor to get Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York State.