OAKLAND, Calif. – The streets of downtown Oakland were filled Saturday, Feb. 7, by an 8,000-strong crowd marching for Real Climate Leadership, the largest march against fracking in U.S. history.
Police, both local Oakland Police Department and California Highway Patrol officers, blocked traffic on major downtown streets to accommodate the crowd, which represented labor, indigenous rights, climate activists and many other groups.
The March for Real Climate Leadership, began at around 11:30 am as crowds gathered in Frank Ogawa Plaza, also locally referred to as Oscar Grant Plaza, in honor of the young African American man killed by BART police at the Fruitvale BART station in 2009.
As crowds of the various groups gathered, speakers from a number of organizations voiced concerns about climate change. More specifically, they called not only for California Governor Jerry Brown to halt the expansion of fracking in the state – but to ban fracking altogether.
For instance, a contingent of union members and labor organizers gathered around the fountain under the banner of “Labor Against Fracking,” with representatives from three ASFCME locals, UNITE HERE, United Educators of San Francisco, U.S. Labor Against the War, Jobs With Justice, East Bay Up the Pay, OURWalmart, and EBASE (East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy).
Speakers mounted the ledge of the fountain to highlight the urgency of labor’s presence in the fight for environmental justice.
“The planet is our workplace,” stated Michael Eisenscher, the representative from U.S. Labor Against the War, setting the tone.
Union members rejected the corporate lie that fracking is done to benefit labor, or brings needed jobs to communities which they should be grateful to have.
Fracking, though, is found in working-class communities, near the children – often children of color – living in underserved neighborhoods. Fracking is not found in wealthy communities.
Health care workers bore witness to the devastation of fracking chemicals to children’s health, bringing disease to children and also causing birth defects and disorders.
Educators attested to the placement of fracking wells so close to schools that children can see them from the playground. Corporations have also attempted to bring pro-fracking propaganda into classrooms, attempting to minimize the dangers of the process and the chemical damage that can result to community water supplies.
“There are no jobs on a dead planet,” said Brooke Anderson of Climate Workers.
As the energy of the assembled crowds mounted, a flash mob appeared in attractive bug costumes, performing a dance number. The show over, the crowds poured out of the plaza and onto Broadway, filling the street as the various groups merged and jockeyed to find space on the street. The rear ranks were still filling the street even as the lead marchers were diverted onto Telegraph Ave., turning at Grand Ave. as they continued to march, apparently having outstripped police expectations for numbers as motorists seemed caught by surprise where no police were present to block traffic.
The march continued as police maneuvered to catch up, winding its way beside Lake Merritt as it finished its circuit of downtown, before reaching Lake Merritt Overlook Park.
Despite a brief downpour, the crowd mingled with the tented tables to hear speakers and spoken word pieces. Flyers circulated calling for a California Climate platform, containing a push for green jobs, developing renewable energy sources, and investment in public programs to reduce emissions, among other points. Meanwhile, a petition circulating on social media called upon Gov. Jerry Brown to end fracking in California, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo did in New York.
Photo: Marilyn Bechtel