Depending on who is counting, about 35,000 to 50,000 people showed up in a freezing cold and windy Washington D.C. for the largest climate march in history on Sunday, February 17.
It was one of the most inspiring events I have ever attended, and I've been trying to sort out why, exactly -- beyond the incredible contact buzz of the crowds, the flags, the banners, the costumes.
Some terrific speeches: the head of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune (whose wife Mary -- with swaddled infant -- and five year old daughter looked on lovingly); our articulate, dedicated Rhode Island Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, who is heading up a bicameral task force on climate solutions; impassioned, intelligent, actress Rosario Dawson-- whose mother, Isabelle Celeste, is also a powerhouse; Tom Steyer, who, having made billions in hedge fund land, is now dedicating himself to fighting climate change. I am hoping he will be our new Energy Secretary, but he might be able to do more good outside of government.
I think it is a tactical error to focus so much attention on the Keystone pipeline -- though opening up those tar sands is an awful prospect. We'd be better off investing more in clean fuel. But, as we used to say in Texas: You gotta dance with the one that brung ya. Bill McKibben has organized the only meaningful climate action we have seen in many years. It is far from "Game Over" if Obama okays the pipeline. But Steyer made a good point: For the last 30 years I've been a professional investor and I've been looking at billion-dollar investments for decades and I'm here to tell you one thing: The Keystone pipeline is not a good investment.
So do marches matter? You bet. Here's what this one demonstrated:
1. Sustainable, renewable passion. People care about climate change. I was struck by the range of participants -- from college kids all the way up to grandparents, and lots of families with children. And people convey passion. Urgency. That's what we need now. Urgency.
2. Marches mean being out in the open. This is in sharp contrast to the stealth tactics of deniers. You don't see them marching. Instead, they are meticulously, cynically seeding disinformation and sowing confusion wherever they can, from the websites of major newspapers to small ones across the globe. I was struck by how little money Donors Trust has actually spent over the last decade on their denier campaign: $400 million. They have used it well; their impact has been outsized.
But deniers have also had the unwitting collusion of major media, in their silence -- as well as the big environmental organizations, suffering from post cap 'em depression; they essentially stopped talking about climate change for years after the failure of cap and trade. That silence has cost us a great deal of progress. So now we have to move with urgency.
Note: All of us should demand of our media: stop posting denier rubbish in your comment sections -- unless you note, each and every time, what is factually incorrect. Otherwise, you are participating in the disinformation campaign, and it is harming your integrity, and our democracy.
3. Marches provide political cover. Many politicians, including the president, remarkably (as you would think he is so powerful that he would simply do the right thing), are so wary of climate politics that they need to know that citizens want this issue addressed. "Show me the movement" means "give me reasons to take a tough stand." Votes count.
4. Now, it's personal. Extreme, unpredictable weather -- a result of climate change -- has touched all of our lives, across the country. This march reminds everyone: climate change is affecting people as well as polar bears.
And one final note. I was in a panic about attending this march, due to my fear of crowds. But I was reminded of something important. If you tell your friends, this is what I'm worried about, so please take care -- most of the time (excepting the occasional knucklehead) they come through. I never once felt lost. And that leads me to one of the most comforting things about this march: the sense of solidarity. If we can keep rallying the kind of energy (sustainable, renewable passion) around fighting climate change, we will have a shot at success.
Photos: Dominique Browning