2020-2021 Trócaire Annual ReportRead now
Trócaire’s Lorna Gold reports from New York, where 310,000 people took to the streets ahead of Tuesday’s UN Climate Summit.
The 21st September was no ordinary day. I would even go so far as saying that it was one of the most extraordinary days in modern times. It was the day that the whole world woke up to global warming and the people said with one voice: we care, we want change, we want climate justice.
For sure there have been big marches before – but nothing on this scale. From Australia to Sri Lanka, from Jakarta to Nairobi, from Dublin to New York – people joined together in nearly 3000 coordinated events to say to world leaders that we demand action. On Tuesday, as the leaders gather at the UN they will have the eyes of the world on them as never before.
Never before has the full power of social media been harnessed to collectively organise diverse groups across the globe and to send one message to world leaders as one voice. It was a coming together of online and offline activism like never before.
I had the privilege of being at the New York march, which was carried off in true New Yorker style. Everyone was there: local neighbourhood groups, young families with babies, dancing polar bears, healthcare workers, rabbis, bishops, elderly people in wheelchairs, people dressed as mermaids, and thousands upon thousands of young people. The organisers estimated that 50,000 students joined the march – stretching for ten full blocks of the city. In total, around 310,000 people marched through New York.
The atmosphere was carnival like. Music, drums, dancing – reclaiming the streets of Manhattan for the people, at least for one day. The atmosphere was electric. There was a feeling of emotional release: finally, our voice is being heard. At one spine tingling point the entire 310,000 raised their hands in silence to think of those affected by climate change. You could have heard a pin drop. Then, from the back of the march, some four kilometres away, a Mexican wave roared all the way down to the front.
The slogans on the thousands of hand painted banners said it all for me: “There is no planet B” “Keep the coal in the hole” “planets do not grown on trees” “Explain to future generations – ‘it was good for the economy’”. Meantime people chanted “this is what democracy looks like” “what do we want? Climate justice. When do we want it? Now.”
Far from being an environmental lobby issue, this was about ordinary people and their lives. People came to the march for many reasons. For many it is about the future their children will inherit. The number of grandparents and young families bearing the heat and humidity to be there was striking. For some it was about their own homes which are at risk of flooding. For others it was about a moral purpose – saving the world.
People want radical change. No matter why they came, they can see the injustice of climate change around them. They came because they want the government to listen to the people and not to be beholden to the oil industry or other corporate forces. A common theme through the march was divestment from fossils fuels and other destructive industries such as fracking.
One of the best slogans at the march showed the World Wildlife Fund panda shouting “Save the Humans.” This summed up the change for me. People have finally realised that climate change is not just about polar bears. It is far more important than that. It is about our planet, our future as a species. It is about people and justice.
I left the march today with my heart full of hope. Change is most definitely in the air. The tipping point is near. The people have spoken up. World leaders now need to listen and make the change that is needed. They need to commit to divesting from fossil fuels, and commit to binding emissions targets. They need to put money on the table to help the poorest countries adapt.
One thing is absolutely certain – this mass movement is not going to stay quiet. It has taken some time, but like generations before them that ended apartheid and slavery, the people have finally found their voice. It will only get louder.