Climate change may be happening, but we can stop it!
That was the message loud and clear at the climate rally held yesterday in Washington, D.C., delivered by the 40,000 or more people who congregated around the Washington Monument before marching to the White House in the largest climate-focused rally in history.
Though the weather was absolutely frigid, the crowd could not have been more fired up. Parents and kids, students and seniors, people of all races and religions came together to demonstrate their love for the environment, their concern for their families and their communities, and their commitment to a cleaner, greener world.
The biggest focus was on President Obama, who made climate change a top priority in his recent State of the Union Address and who must decide whether or not to greenlight the controversial Keystone Pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada, across the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. Former White House green jobs advisor Van Jones told the audience from the state, "This will define your legacy, Mr. President." Indeed, it will.
I marched with the Alaska Wilderness League, a terrific organization that's been leading the fight to keep oil drilling out of America's Arctic Wildlife Refuge for more than 15 years. AWL staffers dressed like polar bears carried signs reading Save the Arctic as we chanted, "What do we want? Polar Bears! What do they need? Ice!"
Moms and dads brought their children to the rally to demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on our families. In many parts of the world, poison ivy has gotten much worse because hotter than normal temperatures have created such ideal growing conditions for this noxious plant. Moms Clean Air Force was there, too, reminding us that the same fossil fuels that cause climate change are polluting our air, a big reason why so many more kids are suffering from asthma these days.
Speaking of kids, they were everywhere at the rally: on their dad's shoulders, getting their pictures taken with the polar bears, clapping their hands in time to the music. It was great to see so many college students, too. In fact, they're the ones who led the "Yes, We Can!" chant when one of the stage speakers asked, "Can we stop climate change?"
Thousands of people traveled from far and wide to lend their voices to the rally crowd. When I boarded my local subway to get down to the event, the car was brimming with folks from as far away as Texas and Oklahoma, two states that are directly in the path of the Keystone Pipeline. At the Washington Monument, a woman from my home state of Michigan sported a big cut-out poster to remind us that an oil leak into an important river in the northern part of that state still had not been cleaned up. Meanwhile, rallies were happening in many other cities in the U.S., too. Mary Clare Hunt was among the 2,000 or more who turned up in Los Angeles to say "not" to climate change. You can read her report here.
After rousing speeches at the Monument and much cheering, the massive crowd headed toward the White House. The point of this, afterall, was to persuade President Obama to make good on his pledge to bring climate change to a halt.
But I couldn't help but feel like a bigger point had been made, too. We live in a democracy, and we have the right to exercise our free speech, assemble for peaceful protest, and determine our own future. That future, and the future of our children, grand children, and great-grandchildren, is very much at stake as we determine not just whether, but how to stop climate change. Peaceful rallies like this one show elected officials, corporations, and other citizens that we take our right to democracy seriously — and so should they.