CHICAGO – On Sept. 18, an otherwise business-as-usual evening in Union Station was punctuated by a large group of environmental activists from all over the U.S., waiting to board the People’s Climate Train. Their destination? The People’s Climate March in New York on Sept. 21, a mass action that will coincide with the UN Climate Summit taking place in the days that follow. It was difficult to pick out the activists from amongst the crowd, as almost anyone could have been a climate marcher; and almost anyone was.
“This march represents an incredible diversity of people, all realizing that this is the same fight,” said Bobby Wengronowitz, emphasizing the large and varied presence of activists. “I think there are about 60 people just getting onto this train from Chicago alone,” he added – though another woman I spoke with said it was closer to 100. “It’s all about the people,” said Wengronowitz. “People who are ready for serious change, ’cause we know it has to happen.”
Wengronowitz is a student from Boston College and organizer with BC Fossil Free, a group that encourages his university to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and educates students there on how they can do the same thing. For him, the problem of climate change isn’t even an issue of mere science. “It’s about justice,” he said. “It’s an issue of simple morals. People are dying. Natural disasters are getting worse. We can spend a trillion dollars a year on the military, but we can’t put money toward stopping carbon and methane from pumping into the atmosphere?”
Becky Romatoski, an organizer with Fossil Free MIT – another fossil fuel divestment group – told the People’s World, “Our organization tries to bring a lot of people who are concerned about the climate together. We do a lot of advertising around the campus trying to get students to commit to divestment and shifting toward renewable energy.” The march, she suggested, will present an even broader avenue for her to do that. Though she wasn’t counting on the event being as bold as it could have been (original plans to gather at the UN Building were scrapped due to route disputes with New York police), she still remained hopeful. “It’ll be peaceful,” she said. “Family friendly. But this one is going to be the last straw. If things don’t change, the next climate march will be much more confrontational.”
As passengers lined up to board the Amtrak train, Rick Herbert, a member of Quaker Earthcare Witness, a group focused on stewardship of the earth and unity with nature, gave his own thoughts on the importance of the march: “It’s all about bridging the left-right divide, and we’re gaining ground. I hope to see that same bipartisan solidarity at the event.”
As for the rich ultra-right who deny climate change, said Wengronowitz, they can only continue to do so for so long. “Sooner or later,” he said, “the people on the top are going to feel the effects. Everything is tied together, and climate change thus also becomes an issue of politics and economics.” Capitalism, he acknowledged, isn’t built to withstand global warming. “In fact, we’re going to have a big, 300-foot banner at the march, which says, ‘Capitalism equals climate chaos.'”
The conductor called everyone aboard, and the marchers prepared for a night of environmental discussion, educational workshops, and even extensive debate, with activists from all parts of the political spectrum ready to exchange viewpoints. The People’s Climate Train, unlike the travelers, seemed set to be anything but average.
“There’s plenty of work to be done,” Wengronowitz concluded, “and it’s just not enough to buy an eco-friendly lightbulb or drive a hybrid. These are baby steps, and we have the power to do more. And the Climate March is going to be a great venue to express that.”
Photo: Becky Romatoski (center) discusses divestment from fossil fuels during a workshop on the People’s Climate Train. Roberta Wood/PW