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It’s estimated that over 200,000 people gathered on the streets of Washington, D.C. on Donald Trump’s 100th day in the White House to demand comprehensive federal action to combat the effects of climate change and global warming. Activists have often criticized leaders’ tendency to reduce clean energy and sustainability to “economic opportunity,” so when the demonstrators took to the streets on April 29, they focused on the intersections of identities and the climate justice movement.
The intersection of racial justice and the climate movement was a focal point of the event. Attendees of the rally heard from leaders from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, as well as It Takes Roots first-hand. They discussed Native rights and racial justice in relation to climate change, noting that people of color are most directly and negatively impacted by climate change. Standing Rock and Flint, Michigan have sparked a national conversation surrounding the right to access clean water, making “Water Is Life” a common household phrase. But activists also highlight discrepancies in access to clean air at the march. The Pacific Standard reported that “Americans who are not white endure 38 percent heavier NO2 (Nitrogen Dioxide) pollution than white Americans,” and “Black Hispanics endure 28 percent heavier NO2 pollution than everybody else.” The Nation reported that folks living in communities of color inhale 40% more polluted air than folks living in predominantly white neighborhoods, and Black children are three times more likely to have asthma attacks.
Demonstrators confronted the impact of globalism and colonialism on the environment, too. A main attraction at the march was an art installation (pictured below) that depicted a carriage of colonialism being impaled by arrows inscribed with words like “sovereignty,” “defend,” “educate,” and “culture.” The artists who worked on the art piece encouraged spectators to use these terms to decolonize their minds and their approach to climate and social justice.
Protesters took this massive public demonstration as an opportunity to show solidarity with other countries under attack. From Syria to Iraq, to Palestine, to Afghanistan, activists noted that not only are these brutal conflicts humanitarian crises, but climate crises as well. The use of chemical weapons, tanks, and explosives are major contributors to global warming. Author Barry Sanders explains in his book The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism that the U.S. Military, for example, “produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction.”
You might not expect the rhyme “No hate, no fear, trans people are welcome here” to fill the air at a march centered around climate change, but as demonstrators wrapped around the White House, thousands of voices joined in the chant. Organizers and march leaders proudly donned flags, pins, and signs that proudly boasted their gender identities and sexualities.
Before the People’s Climate March in New York City ahead of the U.N Climate Summit in 2014, The Daily Beast called advocacy for climate justice “an essential part of queer identity,” noting that intersectional solidarity in the wake of oppression is necessary for activism to be effective. They reported that Joseph Huff-Hannon, an organizer with Queers for the Climate, said “While governments and corporations refused to acknowledge the severity of the AIDS crisis—an eerie parallel to the response to date on climate change—we educated the masses, told our stories, harnessed the media, raised money.”
Labor unions and advocates for workers’ rights were also prominent figures at the march and rally. Their focus was to move workers currently stuck in unsustainable energy industries to cleaner, renewable energy jobs, both for the environment’s sake and the workers’ economic stability. Some union workers at the march were concerned that they may face retaliation for speaking out against non-renewable energy as an industry, but remained hopeful that clean energy will provide longer-lasting jobs and economic prosperity for all employees.
The event was organized to be as accessible as possible. All the meeting points were accessible via public transportation, and nonprofits from across the country passed out signs, shirts, and buttons to marchers at no cost. The path of the march was accessible to folks in wheelchairs, with plenty of shaded spots for rest along the route. Volunteers and vendors were set up along the route handing out water and snacks. Once the march convened at the Washington Monument for the rally, large screens with subtitles projected all the speakers and musicians for all to see and read. Organizers made quiet, nursing, and low-stimulation tents available to folks who needed them, as well as on-site medical assistance when necessary.
Although it would be difficult to pinpoint perfect intersectionality in any mass movement, the organizers and leaders of the People’s Climate March sought to create a welcoming, accessible environment that elevated voices from all walks of life. No matter their language, ability, gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, or other intersecting identifier, all voices were welcomed and elevated. Perhaps more significantly, these messages of inclusivity extended beyond the march’s leaders, and spread to each and every participant in the march. There were no plays on respectability politics, or iconography centered around genitalia; only thousands upon thousands of people gathered to share their belief in It Takes Roots’ simple, but powerful mantra: No War, No Warming, No Walls.