In what's being called the biggest and most diverse climate march ever, more than 400,000 people jammed the streets of New York City yesterday in a massive show of strength ahead of tomorrow's United Nations climate summit. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon marched. So did Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo and former Vice President Al Gore. Joining them were students, veterans, nuns, First Nation members, unions and farmers. Their presence confirmed that the climate battle is no longer the burden only of environmentalists and older activists familiar with the barricades, but of everyone. The devastating effects of climate change are being felt around the world. Faced with stalled climate negotiations (and, in D.C., a House of Representatives called the most anti-environmental in history) the real fight for the planet is beginning. "This is the most important day yet in the fight against global warming – but it is still just one day in the life of a movement," Bill McKibben tells Rolling Stone. "We will need to keep growing this fight bigger and stronger, and we will need to do it fast, since that's the speed at which the pace of climatic destruction is accelerating." Here are some of the thousands who took to the streets of Manhattan to demand action, to say no more business as usual.
"Climate change is affecting everybody from all social classes. The stalled climate talks are very frustrating, but the march is a step in the right direction. Our job is to walk. Governments can ignore poor, developing countries, but they can't ignore half a million marchers. I just turned 18 so I can vote now. I've never been arrested in a protest, but I'd participate in civil disobedience on behalf of the climate."
"This is my first march. The most important thing people need to realize is that this is going to affect everybody. It’s happening now and represents everybody’s future. The state of the environment – whether it’s clean or polluted affects us all. I’m a freshman interested in marine science. What do I do personally do? I recycle."
"Climate change is a civil rights issue. We’re marching today because we’re changing the conversation. Climate and the environment are not niche issues anymore – that’s exciting. It used to be that we’d talk about the environment and then we’d talk about people. They’re one and the same. Climate justice is people justice. I don’t think quiet, peaceful action like recycling works. There has to be some kind of disruption, an extended moment of disruption. I got into Martin Luther King this summer – he wanted a Poor People's Campaign. Climate justice is a poor people's campaign. We need a continuation of the civil rights movement, a freedom movement. It’s a deep structural need."
"I’m Tar Heels born and bred: Tar Heels Against Tar Sands! I’m really inspired by all these people here today. We’re the future, especially university students. I hope people will get fired up here and keep going with their movements once the march is over because climate change is before us right now. My elected officials aren’t voting the way I want them to on climate and the environment. I’ll be voting to replace them."
"I’m at a loss for words when it comes to climate change, but I can say it’s a social justice issue, a manifestation of poverty and greed. I’m a registered nurse and a major proponent of the single payer system – right now, there’s no justice in what poor people have to go through to get health care. I help environmental causes by contributing to groups like Greenpeace. I bought $500 worth of bus tickets so other people could get to this march."
"We’re here to show our support for the planet. This is my first march. We have a big group on campus working on a fossil fuel divestment campaign. I work on campaign finance reform so we can elect candidates who support environmental issues. I had no idea there would be so many people here today – seeing all of them is amazing, inspiring, particularly to smaller groups like ours who aren’t regularly in touch with the larger movement. Personally, I’m trying to make the smallest impact on the environment that I can – limiting my consumption, reusing and recycling."
"My issue is local food and urban agriculture. I studied sustainability management. I grew up in big cities and was so disconnected from food. I’m not much of an activist, but I want to take part in this march and show the U.N. how much we care. I don’t think we can save the planet, but we have to do better and shift our awareness. I’ve never marched before except in a tribute to the revolution in the Czech Republic."
"I believe in sustainability and think a more sustainable system could actually save the planet. I think there are three main issues; environmental, social and economic. The problem is that governments and corporations don’t look at anything but economics. We have to come up with different technologies."
"This is my first political march. I don’t see myself as political, but this issue is very important. One third of the world isn’t getting enough food and another third are obese. We need more efficient systems for delivering food and climate change worsens areas already facing increased drought and flooding."
"I’m marching because I want to see change. I’m hopeful. I want to show the powers that be that people are listening. Things have to change, but they’re going to get worse before they get better. For 20 years, I worked in environmental protection in Texas – there are plenty of people in the state who care. Right now I live in Austin and sleep in a tent year round without heat or air conditioning. I prefer it that way."
"I study environmental conservation. Everybody says scientists are stuck in their ivory tower, but we’re screaming from the ivory tower about global warming and the climate and our politicians have chosen to ignore it. We want our grandchildren to know that people all over the world were screaming about the climate. Marches like this show governments and corporations that consumers want change. Business as usual just isn’t sustainable or acceptable."
Lillian: "We need to tell the government that we care about the planet. I’m learning a lot about these issues at school; I didn’t grow up in an activist household. We buy local and organic and walk wherever we go. We try to raise awareness. I care enough about climate change that I’d get arrested."
Ryan: "We were just talking about oil and natural gas and the money involved. I think people everywhere are starting say, 'Maybe I should change my lifestyle.' I grew up in Colorado where my family was pretty progressive; we’d buy half a cow. Is capitalism incompatible with a healthy climate? The people sleeping outside the Apple store for the iPhone 6 are just as much of a demonstration as this. It’s the power of objects."
"We’re organic farmers in upstate New York. We work with young people who’ve been in foster care or in the criminal justice system. Farmers are very vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Nothing’s happening on climate because there’s no political will. We all know what’s going to happen, but there’s no incentive for doing anything about it."
"I’m here because the planet is hurting and it’s avoidable. It’s the result of greed. I worked for Obama in both campaigns. I’m an empath and I read energy – I think the president’s a pawn and that the people around him are corrupt. I always feel optimistic, in spite of the reality we’re facing. We can’t beat the Koch brothers with money. What we can beat them with is sheer numbers of aware people."
"I’m here to really try and make a statement. This is not about a country or a religion, but about the earth. The statement is that it may be too late, but you can’t give up. When you see all these people from all countries, all nations, it’s life-giving. The life we live right now, let’s live it: speak up, stand up, never stop letting people know that this is real, the end of the planet is real. Our government needs to divest itself of power. It needs to stop being beholden to oil."
"We lobby in Albany. We have to get big money out of politics. Everybody needs clean air and clean water. Both are impacted by the fracking they’re sneaking through."
"I was one of the people who said there’s nothing to be done about climate change. Then the students I ended up working with gave me hope. We lobby in Albany and our work intersects with climate change. A lot of our constituents are low-income communities of color drastically affected by climate change. We’re marching to put the power back in the hands of the people. We can’t wait for the government to act. We have to act. We’re working to transition New York City to 100 percent renewable energy. Carbon free, nuke free. After the march is over, we need to do three things. One: Stay connected, as there will be a lot of new networks and people will continue organizing. Two: Take individual action by investing in renewable energy – we can’t wait for society, we are society. Three: We need comprehensive campaign finance reform. To be a successful movement, the climate movement has to be a pro-democracy movement. People have to take the power."