In what has become a familiar scene in the nation's capital, tens of thousands of activists gathered in Washington by the Capitol Building this morning for the Peoples Climate March. It was one of over 300 such marches across the country and the world, and prior to marching en masse to the White House, the crowds braved sweltering heat and humidity on the National Mall. (Perhaps befittingly, the temperature of 91 degrees tied a 1974 heat record.)
In our case, 600 marchers came from Massachusetts on 11 buses arranged by 350 Massachusetts; state organizations and colleges sent buses as well. Myriad environmental organizations hailing from other states as far away as Hawaii were represented, joined in protest against the climate-destroying measures instituted last month by President Donald Trump and his administration. Age ranges and nationalities (that also included many Native Americans in full traditional dress) made it a convergence that swelled to over 200,000 Vietnam-era to next-generation environmental advocates.
On Thursday, in advance of Saturday's 100th day of the Trump administration, Democratic Senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey unveiled the "100 by '50 Act," legislation that would move the country off fossil fuels and toward a 100 percent renewable energy economy.
Merkley and Markey were among Members of Congress and state and local officials who were joining the march. Along with Democrats Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez of New York, Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tom Carper of Delaware, and Attorney General Maura Healey of Massachusetts, they held a press event by the Capitol Reflecting Pool. The media advisory stated that they would urge action for jobs, justice and the climate.
Merkley said the most important step for climate change is for attendees to bring the energy of the march to their communities. “We need to go to every organization we are part of, every city council, to fulfill this dream, overflow the phones, fill the mail slots, and please... run for office,” he said. “Let’s take this peoples’ power and build it right up — until we retake control of the building behind us.”
Carper told the crowd that 70,000 clean energy and conservation jobs were created in America in the last year alone, and over the last 20 years, almost 3 million. “When someone tells you we can’t have both clean energy and jobs, I want you to say, ‘hogwash!’” he said.
“Henry David Thoreau said, ‘what use is a home if you don’t have a tolerable planet to put it on?’” quoted Merkley, introducing Cantwell, who said that the time for climate change could not be more challenging. “After decades of progress...this administration is trying to roll back the policies that are going to save our planet in the future.” She posed a question for Trump: “Are you afraid of science?” and urged him to hire a “futurist.”
Whitehouse gave a shoutout to Healey, saying that courts are a good place to talk about climate change: “When witnesses lie in court, they get punished; when lawyers lie in court, they get punished.” He cited three forms of pollution: In the atmosphere; and in our public debate, “due to spin and lies and calculated misinformation from a whole enterprise of science denial.” The third was “the pollution of that building behind us, with dark money, with unlimited Citizens United money, with the spending the fossil fuel industry is doing to protect a $700 billion dollar a year subsidy,” he said.
“When people were unhappy with slavery, the abolitionist movement came here,” said Markey. “When women wanted to have the right to vote, the suffragettes came here. When the civil rights movement wanted a change in the laws so that African-Americans and all minorities had the same rights as white people in our country, they came here. They all said the same thing: ‘Free at Last, Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, We’re Free at Last.’”
Markey said the green revolution is now saying this. “They will not stop this wind and solar revolution. They will not stop this all-electric vehicle revolution. They will not stop this energy efficiency revolution....The planet is running a fever; there are no emergency rooms for planets. The only way to do this correctly is to put the preventative programs in place, and renewable energy that will save the planet from a preventable death.” He promised to fight for science every day, “until Donald Trump is no longer the President of the United States.”
Velázquez said it was shameful that the President, who comes from Manhattan, which is surrounded by water, could deny that climate change is an environmental issue. “This is an inspiration to see so many young people, seniors, women, blacks, Latinos, fighting,” she said, citing the hypocrisy of EPA head Scott Pruitt wanting to destroy that agency. “Not under our watch!” she said.
Merkley called Healey one of the most powerful voices using the law to take on companies like ExxonMobil, and a real legal champion and force.
“As states, we know how important this is. “We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again,” said Healey.
“To be clear, federal law requires those in power to protect our residents, to protect our environment, to protect clean air and water. We’ve sued them before, and we’ll sue them again,” she promised.
”As the people’s lawyer to the people’s marchers,” she told the crowds, “let’s get out there, let’s raise our voices, and let’s send a message to Washington that no one is above the law, and this is about our planet, and humankind.”
Healey spoke with HuffPost prior to the event. "In Massachusetts, we care a lot about protecting the health and welfare of our residents," she said. "It goes 10 years back, to when Massachusetts successfully sued the EPA under President George W. Bush. It is up to the states to help lead the way, when the current administration is taking us backwards and promoting an all-out assault on the environment and the economy.”
Earlier this year, Healey won a major legal victory when she and New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman requested that ExxonMobil release 40 years of documentation on climate change that the company had withheld from its investors and consumers. She has emerged as a vocal and leading opponent of Trump’s controversial immigration, economic and environmental initiatives.
Healey's political star has been on the rise. But when asked about her current stature, she attributed her victories to working with her predecessor Martha Coakley, under whom Healey served as the head of the Civil Rights Division, and later, as the Chief of the Public Protection and Business & Labor Bureaus. In that capacity, Healey successfully argued against the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
"Massachusetts has a tradition of leadership on economic, civil rights and environmental issues like clean tech and renewables," she told HuffPost. "People look to our state to set an example."
Prior to the march, HuffPost spoke with Paul Getsos, who is the National Coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement, the organization behind the 2014 Peoples Climate March in New York and the 2015 Global Climate March held on the eve of the Paris Climate Summit, as well as today's worldwide marches.
"We are here today to show that there is a strong and vibrant and broad-based movement that will resist [Trump’s] policies and attacks on the people, planet and our community," he said. According to the march press kit, famed speakers and celebrities were not on the agenda, so that the focus would remain on the community and its leaders. Getsos said that frontline members include workers, people of faith, students and youth. "We are going to march to the White House, where we will surround it and sit around it in an actual sit in at approximately 2 p.m." he said. "From there, we will march to the Washington Monument, where we will do movement building activities," he said.
Indeed, the current administration is an environmentalist's worst living nightmare, on a scale that is nearly unfathomable.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the CEO of ExxonMobil, and said we would "adapt" to climate change. Scott Pruitt, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, sued the agency to cease regulating power plant emissions put in place by the Obama administration. Rick Perry, United States Secretary of Energy, has called climate change a hoax.
But on a clear, albeit scorching day in our nation’s capital, there was hope for the future.
Susie Davidson tweets at @SusieDavidsonMA.