Yesterday (February 17th), I was part of history. 50,000 people came from around the continent to Washington DC for the Forward on Climate rally. We protested the Keystone XL pipeline and the expansion of tar sands oil.
This was the largest rally that I had every been to. I woke up on the morning of the 17th filled with excitement and anticipation. What would it be like to be in a throng of thousands of people who all had the same goal and inner passion to mitigate global warming? I’ve been an activist since I was 12 and have sometimes felt alone or like the problems were too big to solve–would these feelings be offset by being at such a large rally?
Although 50,000 is a small number compared to all the climate activists and human beings out there, we still came together to create the largest climate rally in history. And I felt hopeful. Our voices carry more moral authority than any other generations before us because, as Reverend Lennox Yearwood said at the rally: “While they [civil rights activists] were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.”
The rally began with a series of amazing speakers. Reverend Lennox Yearwood fired up the crowd as dance music played and gave us the opportunity to warm up. Bill McKibben touched everyone with his words. Michael Brune gave a passionate plea to Obama. First Nation representatives talked about the first-hand destruction of their homes and land. But my favorite speaker was Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). He talked about how the fossil fuel industry had control of the government and how Congress was “sleepwalking” through the crisis. He said that it was the people’s responsibility to push their elected officials to take action, to wake up, to see the urgency, and to take a moral stand. He gave me hope for the future of our political system. His candid honesty is something that I’ll always remember.
After the speakers, everyone began to march around the White House. Chants sporadically erupted. People were smiling. Friends were reuniting. And people around the world were watching.
My philosophy and goal as an environmental activist has always been to focus on the grassroots. I believe in building a movement from the bottom-up, by talking with individuals and through education. Politicians will only act when they see that their constituents care. And so it is up to each individual to use their voice and make it heard. But although I have always focused on grass roots, I have never seen the national and international grassroots movements come together with so much power. We all create our movements locally. But it is combining our collective power this our ultimate goal. Yesterday was a powerful example of solidarity.
We did not ask to be thrust into the middle of history. We did not expect to be living during a time of unprecedented crisis and urgency. And we did not expect to organize, mobilize, inspire, and educate as we build the most powerful movement in human history. Yet here we are. We have been called upon to respond to the threats of our time. And we are coming together to answer that call.
People from Canada to the Gulf to Coast to Maine say: tar sands shall not pass.