This past weekend, I marched with about 200,000 other people in the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. Together with other members of 350 Indiana-Calumet, I helped organize a bus of about 50 people from Northwest and Northcentral Indiana to attend the D.C. march.
Though fundraising we were able to sponsor several residents of the West Calumet Housing complex in East Chicago, Indiana. The West Calumet residents are facing a Flint-like lead poisoning crisis and have been evicted from their homes due to contamination of their soil and water. The contamination of East Chicago’s soil is directly related to the fossil fuel industry, since it was caused years ago by lead smelters which supplied lead to the petroleum refinery in neighboring Whiting, Indiana to make leaded gasoline.
There was also a climate march in nearby Chicago and a rally even closer in Highland, Indiana. But it was important to us that people from a front line community like East Chicago, Indiana be represented in D.C. at the People’s Climate March. East Chicago, which is half Latino and almost half African American, is a prime example of environmental racism, which is when communities of color suffer the disproportionate impacts of industrial pollution and climate change. Several of the people in our group told me that this was their very first march ever!
We were also joined by a diverse group of young women from the Calumet Region who call themselves the “Rebel Bells”. The Rebel Bells work for social justice and have been described as the “woke Girl Scouts”.
I was fortunate to have been able to attend both the Women’s March on Trump’s first day in office and the People’s Climate March on his 100th day. From my perspective, there was a very different feeling to the Climate March. The Women’s March, which was very large and brought together so many different intersecting issues, was powerful in its own way, but seemed to suffer from poor organization. There were lots of big name speakers at the Women’s March, but the speech-making went on for far too long, and people’s enthusiasm lagged after several hours. And there was little actual marching, because of the number of people present made it impossible, which was frustrating.
The Climate March was very different. Though there are many different facets of the climate justice movement, the message of the Climate March was more focused. The rally with speakers came at the end, not at the beginning of the event, and the speakers did not have the same public profile or cache as the Women’s March speakers, so the focus was more on the marchers themselves. There were about 200,000 people at the Climate March, compared to the 500,000 at the Women’s March, and so we actually were able to march, though there was still a massive crowd.
Walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, with the Capitol Building at our backs, was invigorating, in spite of the heat (over 90 degrees) and physical exertion. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be exuberant. I was carrying a 4-foot wide inflatable earth. And our group carried signs saying “East Chicago Demands Clean Air/Water/Land” and “Indiana Climate Justice”.
I think marches like the Women’s March and the Climate March are very important, as much for the people who participate as for those who don’t. For those who participate, it raises energy and helps focus that energy toward constructive social action, while also building solidarity with other marchers, which helps us build the movement when we return home. For those who watch, these marches help create a new normal and shift the conversation. Marching sends a message to the people in power, as well as a challenge to the people at home. It is a challenge to apathy and cynicism and self-serving denial, and a message of hope and love and empowerment.