09/21 – United for the climate

The day thousands of people took New York City’s streets asking for more attention to climate changes

Environmental activists, teachers, religious people, union people and curious people took the streets of Manhattan, New York, this Sunday (September 21st) in what is already being called the biggest climate protest ever. About 300,000 people attended the People’s Climate March, a couple days before the UN Climate Summit, which will gather world leaderships to take action and make pledges to stop global warming.

“There is no planet B”, “Forests aren’t for sale”, “Listen to indigenous peoples” and “Climate change is real, teach science” were some of the messages on the signs that marchers held while they shout: “Who are we? We are the people! What do we want? Climate Justice now!”

The disbelief on the UN meeting was disseminated among the demonstration. Many protesters said they were there to put pressure on world leaders to take concrete action on climate change. “I have little hope that something is really going to be done about the environmental issues, especially by the USA, and that is why we are here today, to show our dissatisfaction concerning the climate change and the capitalism”, said the Brazilian college teacher José Celso de Castro Alves.

Others were more optimistic and had more hope. “I am here because every social change begins when people get together in the streets”, said the biology teacher Elisa Lauterbur. “Together we can be heard and we can make the difference not only to people, but also to the planet.”

The teacher was one of the hundreds that were holding a sign asking for climate change to be teach in schools. “Here in USA the schools don’t discuss this subject. There is no understanding that climate change is a real problem, even in the universities.”

If there was one sentence to express all the hopes and expectations that led all that people to be there in a cloudy Sunday morning it would be “the union is the power”. Indeed, the popular saying was sung by the crowd, specifically by hundreds of union workers such as traffic man, teachers and health professionals who were claiming for “green jobs” – work that help to protect ecosystems and biodiversity and minimize or avoid generation of all forms of waste and pollution.

Besides the requests for more governmental action on climate, the march was full of diverse social groups claiming for specific causes. Judging by the amount of signs, one of the most highlighted issues was the fracking, a technique that uses clean water to extract gas from deep-rock formations. The process is forbidden in Europe because of its high risk of contamination and environmental impact, but it has been largely used in the USA and it is under consideration in Brazil. The technique has caused methane leaks into groundwater aquifers.

Forest protectors
Indigenous peoples from Peru, Mexico and Bolivia were also present in the demonstration. Wearing colorful traditional costumes and feather headdresses, they sang and played the bongo asking to be listened and recognized as forest protectors.

A small group of Brazilians who live in New York City joined the march and asked for attention to the victims of hydroelectric dams in Brazil. “We want climate justice, we want the rights of the dams’ victims to be respected and that the Brazilian government approves the ‘National Policy and Rights for the Populations Affected by Hydroelectric’, which is waiting the Congress approval for years”, claimed Saulo Araújo.

The mix of different social groups were so clear that one might call it a Noah’s Arch. In fact, the biblical arch was there. A replica of the boat made out of card box was carrying muslin woman covering their hairs, priests and Mormons announcing that the end was near for the human race and that it could be avoided if people start warring about global warming. Pagans, Hindus and Buddhists was also there.

One minute of silence
The incredible profusion of music, prays, indigenous songs and drums filled the air during the progression of the march for 44 blocks, from the 86th street west to the 42nd street west, in the world famous Times Square. Arriving in the temple of consumption, illuminated by its enormous LED outdoors, the protesters became silent.

With arms raised, they took one minute of silence to honor the people affected by climate change. In a city recently affected by the Sandy Hurricane, the moment of drama drew tears from some people.  “New York has seen closely what global warming can do and we don’t want to see it again”, said Danielle Horton, who had her house destroyed by the storm. “We don’t want no one to go through what we have been through and that is why I am here today.”

 * This post was originally posted in Portuguese here

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