Saturday, May 13, 2017

People's Climate March, April 29, 2017

With four buses sponsored by the Sierra Club and booked for the trip from Albany to the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, I knew I would be asked to co-captain one of them.  Emails flew in the days before the march, with the final roster of riders on "my" bus sent at 6:30 p.m. the night of the ride.  Every possible complication had been thought of, or so it seemed.

In fact, leaving Albany was the most difficult part of the next 24 hours.  Arriving at the meeting location 11:30 p.m. to check my passengers with my co-captain, Sierra Club colleague and friend, Pete Sheehan, I knew immediately that loading up was not going to go smoothly.

In short, people arrived who were not on any list but had tickets in hand; one bus had an accident before boarding; a replacement bus came with 13 fewer seats than the original one; and my bus driver arrived ready to go and immovable about keeping to the schedule.

(I was charmed by a little girl who took this picture of me.)

Phone calls with other captains, pleading looks from double-booked passengers, and the bus driver in the wings demanding Pete's attention, left me strung out by 1 a.m. We eventually left Albany, with most, but not all, issues resolved.

( World War II memorial with fountains running)
The bus dropped us off near the Lincoln Memorial at 8 a.m., where temperatures were already in the 70s and the air thick.  The forecast predicted 92 degrees and high humidity. Despite having given my passengers a refresher on the events of the day, and having strongly encouraged them to have a buddy at all times, I struck out on my own, and Pete left to meet up with his niece.

(the Lincoln Memorial to the west brings history into focus behind the WWII Memorial)

I reveled in this time alone, as I walked slowly past monuments and memorials in the quiet morning.  The first person I met was a charming eight-year-old girl who asked to read my sign.  She spent a few minutes studying it. Given her interest and the fact that her parents kept a watchful eye nearby, I asked her to take my picture. 

She worked on the composition of the photo, saying, "Your backpack is in the picture.  Don't you think it would be better moved out of the way?"  I shoved it aside.  She checked again.  "Your sign is crooked.  Do you want it that way?"  I straightened my sign.  This child was a budding portrait photographer!  What a refreshing start to the wonderful interactions I would have with people all day long.

(a line of port-a-potties to the left, barrels of drinking water to the right)

High on my list was catching the World War II memorial with the fountains working. I had seen this memorial before, but in winter, when the fountain was not running.  From there, I continued towards the corner  of Jefferson and Third Streets, our designated Sierra Club meeting place.

More and more marchers arrived. At one point, I texted with a friend, and we tried to meet, but moving through the crowd was no longer easy.  Often, people passed me, read my sign, and gave me a thumbs-up.  Some said, "Sierra Club, yay!"  One young man stopped for a conversation with me about the Trump administration's anti-environmental policies.  My sign brought positive attention.  And, between these moments, I walked slowly in the rising heat and humidity, by myself, taking in my surroundings.

(young men carry a pipeline to protest drilling and the use of fossil fuels)
I reached our corner an hour early, figuring I would hail my Albany people as they arrived, and sat under a tree in the warm breeze, keeping a lookout.

A few nicely dressed people stood near me.  One woman asked why such a large group was gathering here. I explained about the march and the environmental issues that concerned us.  Then I asked her why she was here.  It turned out that she was one of a few Jehovah's Witnesses that met on this corner every Saturday morning to proselytize. 

(Marchers cluster under huge trees waiting for the march to begin)

Thankfully, instead of preaching to me, she joined me in admiring the mature trees in this park near the Capitol. She said, "You know, if you have time and really enjoy flowers and trees, the botanical garden is just across the street."  What a great surprise!  I headed over to see the garden.

(the US Botanic Garden dates from 1816)

Washington, DC, is famous for its springtime beauty.  I was enthralled by the array of roses in full bloom at the botanic garden.  And I wasn't the only person there carrying an environmental sign.  Taking a moment as a tourist in this quiet oasis was a bonus!

Since I had removed myself from the crowd, I used the opportunity to walk by the Capitol and the reflecting pool.  Here, tourists mixed with marchers.

(Crowds gather across from the Capitol)

When I returned to Third Street, the crowds had grown and the street filled.  I found some of our Albany folks comfortably sitting on the grass waiting for the march to begin.

(I figured a salty pretzel would be a hedge again the heat ☺)

All day long, I was pleased and surprised by how many people spoke to me.  Some took pictures of my sign, with or without me in the photo.  I liked the sign Pete and his wife, Margie, had made for me, but I was astonished at the attention that it drew.  It brought me conversation and camaraderie. Invariably, those who approached me were Sierra Club members.  We compared notes on where we came from and what issues especially concerned our Chapters.  I spoke with Sierrans from all over the country.

(the March begins!)
The temperature rose, and I got my usual heat-headache.  I had supplies in my backpack, however, and got rid of it before it took too great a hold. 

(the Capitol is a fitting backdrop)
Everyone let out a cheer when the march began.  The street was packed.  Those of us, under the trees, waited for an opportunity to grab places in the street and soon became part of the crowd.

I had been assigned the job of taking pictures for our Sierra Club Group, to accompany an article that Pete would write for our spring newsletter.  I made an effort to step to the side so that I could get the Capitol in the background of some of my photos.  After all, wasn't our point to let our legislators know how strongly we felt about environmental policy? 

(Native Americans have had a hard time in the West)

Given that there have been so many rallies and marches in Washington since Trump's inauguration, many people have been concerned that the marches have become an amalgamation of every issue anyone cares about.  I did not see this here.  Climate change, green jobs, and environmental justice were the themes.  I happened to be near Native Americans, who are hard-hit these days, as they fight to save their sacred lands from gas drilling and pipelines.

Over 200,000 people attended this march which went from the Capitol to the White House, a distance of two miles.  We passed museums, federal office buildings, and Trump International Tower.  A shout of "Boooo" went up as we passed the tower.

We had been warned about hecklers, Trump supporters who might try to aggravate us.  The only Trump supporter I saw was a man who held a sign that read, "Trump knows more about science than you do."  Definitely a very weak argument.

(the Newseum recognizes the freedom of the press, a right much maligned by the Trump administration)

The usual chants rose and fell, "This is what democracy looks like," being the most-voiced.  I especially liked the yell that rose like a wave, at one end of the crowd, many blocks from me, and carried through to the following end.  I could hear it coming, added to it, and then heard it pass.  Later, another shout started from the opposite end and passed again like a wave.  The effect made us feel united and powerful.

("I'm with her" used to indicate a Hillary Clinton supporter, now it is a support for Mother Earth)

Encircling the White House, symbolically counting every day of the 100 days that Trump had been in office, was the final destination for this march.  I followed the crowd, thinking I was headed in the right direction.  When I saw the Washington Monument, I thought, what happened to the White House?  It turned out that I, like a lemming going to the sea, had followed a section of the crowd that skipped the White House! 

(How did I miss this?)

I turned to go back against the tide, but the event was over.  More people already headed my way.  Later, online, I saw that many many marchers had followed the "right" crowd.  I wished I hadn't missed this part of the march.

(a runaway world)

As I walked back towards the monument, I saw a globe rolling across the grass.  A man ran for it.  At first the scene appeared comical, but quickly became metaphorical.  Despite our unity and our environmental passion, our world was running away, and we would be lucky if we could catch it.

Like me, many people found some shade under the trees.  Loud music played from the stage, where speakers would eventually rally the people once again.  I have heard many of our current great environmentalists speak, but I had never heard Al Gore, and hoped to this time.  The musicians continued to play, and time was passing.  I knew Gore would not be the first speaker, and I would need to board the bus in a while.  I looked at the long reflecting pool between me and the Lincoln Memorial and decided to begin making my way in that direction.

People walked and biked through the allee, enjoying their national park on a warm Saturday.  Tourists outnumbered climate marchers at this end of the Mall; no one stopped to talk to me about my sign, environmental issues, or the Sierra Club.  When I saw an ice cream stand, I knew an ice cream sandwich was just what I needed.

I had enough time to join the tourists sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial watching the people.  I was glad that I could take these moments to reflect on my place in this iconic landscape, on these steps where major events had taken place in American history. 

(View from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial)

The comfortable breeze returned, and I felt my eyes closing. With a jolt, I realized that I might doze off and somersault down the marble steps!  It would be much safer to go to the park on the Potomac where we would gather for the bus. I meandered the way I had come hours before. A few of our people had already arrived, and we discussed our day's experience.  Before long, all of the riders on my bus were accounted for. 

(We gathered in this park along the Potomac, waiting for our bus.)

Once on the road, I thanked my passengers for a great day.  Then, I expressed my hope that we had made a difference. A loud cheer arose. 


  1. Very moving...and of course the little ice cream bar a laugh for anyone who knows you. Funny as an introvert who appears to be an extrovert, I decided last week that you might be an extrovert who appears to be an introvert. But, the description of your day, the keen observer, was too wonderful for words.

  2. Thanks for posting this Virginia! This essay explains very nicely what it was like to actually be there. Many of us were there with you in spirit for sure! :) Anne Best