The People's Climate March was far and away a greater success that I ever could have imagined. My experience started at 5AM the Friday before the march. I jumped on a bus that would caravan from Little Rock with more than one hundred others from around the region. On the way to New York, we divided the drive into two days, and picked up a handful of passengers on the route from Arkansas across Tennessee. We stopped for the day after the first twelve hours of driving, which destined us for a visit to the Climate Change Science Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratories. We heard from three climate scientists about the impacts of climate change in the Arctic Circle and how trees are responding to increased temperature and atmospheric carbon. It was truly fascinating work – enough to keep one hundred people engaged after twelve hours on a cramped bus.
The next day we made the long and uneventful drive to outskirts of New York, where we rested up for the Sunday's big event. We woke early and traveled into the city. In a way it was eerie how quiet New York was that morning; the city that never sleeps seemed to be in a trance, as if it already knew what was going to unfold. Police and march organizers were everywhere, skillfully coordinating the more than 500 buses traveling from around the country. We were off the bus with three hours to go before the march began, but already the route was buzzing with people. I walked up and down Central Park West to get a handle the crowd.
I couldn't believe my eyes. People impassioned by all manner of issues were joining together under the common cause of climate change. The crowd was so diverse and sometimes at odds: from peace-loving grandmothers to youth demanding a climate-just future; anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear camps; vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores; indigenous communities, faith leaders of all stripes, anarchists, socialists, liberals, conservatives. It was unlike anything I've ever seen. Despite our sometimes polarizing motivations, when it came time to march, we marched together – all 400,000 of us – in recognition that we all share only one planet. As we milled about, waiting to march, my cell phone buzzed with a message from the PCM organizers.
"Moment of Silence at 12:58 PM. At 1:00 PM, sound the alarm on climate change."
I thought the quietness of the city was unsettling in the morning, but when a clamoring crowd of 400,000 suddenly fell silent in unison, it sent chills down my spine. More powerful yet was the moment the silence broke. I was somewhere near the middle of the mass of people and from both ends of Central Park West, the "alarm" of voices, instruments, and noise-makers came cascading through the streets like a battle cry.
The march lasted several hours and quadrupled the turnout anticipated by its organizers. The crowd slowly began to disperse, and I split off for my bus. At 8PM that evening, we departed New York and drove 26 hours straight through to Little Rock. By the time I made it home, my voice was mostly gone and my muscles were cramped from hopeless attempts at sleep, but I had never felt better. I knew that march was the most important thing I had ever done. For the first time in my life, I felt like I really knew what it meant to live in a democracy and to be a part of meaningful social change.