People’s Climate MarchPosted: September 22, 2014
“Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.”
I often paraphrase these words from Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune when discussing the ineludible influence of unique cities on individuals. Having lived in the Bay Area for several years, I know what it means to start turning soft. And now that I’ve lived in NYC for a few years, I’ve begun to catch my facial expression hardening instinctively at a passerby’s beckon.
So when a stranger offered us bananas as we passed Riverside Church at the onset of our walk down to the People’s Climate March yesterday, I refused and relented only when my friend accepted after an “Are you sure?” But by the end of the march at 34th Street and 11th Avenue, I was grabbing a homemade vegan sandwich and cookie from some lady without hesitation or a second thought.
I think my faith in humanity began to be restored during the 3.8 miles marching in the tremendous crowd. As soon as we reached the rear end of the organized march at 86th Street and started wading through the groups of people preparing banners and rallying, my eyes began to well up in the same way they can at the beauty of an orchestra or a great chorus of voices. And when the timed silence was broken by the palpable roar cascading forward — that — that was something you can’t watch on YouTube or replicate without hundreds of thousands of people.
Hundreds of thousands of people, of course, means very long lines for the limited number of toilets. There were porta potties, called “Port-o-Johns” on the People’s Climate March website, usually in clusters of two. The organizers also provided giant water coolers at a handful of locations and did an excellent job of coordinating such an enormous event. They did a remarkable job getting the word out too. It may have been because I was already looking with interest but I noticed their advertisements all over, including in subway cars and community centers.
There were many spectators for the quasi-parade: bewildered families trying to make their way across for a leisurely Sunday morning in Central Park, photographers and journalists there to report on a historical moment, and people sitting on the sidewalk in front of Upper West Side apartments in lawn chairs I didn’t know they had. I had seen cool things like a 3D chocolate printer and a giraffe robot at the annual Maker Faire the day before, but nothing came even remotely close to being as fascinating as the people at the People’s Climate March.
There were people I didn’t understand, like the woman marching in three & a half inch heels and the man who brought his bicycle along. Then there were people cashing in and selling souvenirs for an event where many of its participants are calling for the end of capitalism. It’s the kind of unsurprising and ubiquitous paradox that I still find jarring. It also brings to mind a guest with an “Occupy Wall Street” pin on her messenger bag who I noticed in the elevator at the Trump Soho. I questioned her presence there then wondered what I was doing there.
There were others still holding signs with topics unrelated or only tangentially related to the cause such as the Red Sox, ISIS and Esperanto. I requested a translation of “Where’s the restroom?” from Neil, who was holding the Esperanto sign, and learned that the restroom translates into the “necessary room” in the constructed language. It seems an appropriate translation for an international movement where toilets are vital to the mobilization.
I hope the heads of state at the climate change summit are listening. I hope future generations have the chance to experience the distinct differences between currently sinking cities, Manhattan and San Francisco.