On Tuesday, September 23rd, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will meet with world leaders to discuss the global threat of climate change. Two days earlier, he’ll be marching in the streets of New York alongside activists hoping to put pressure on the summit’s high-powered attendees. “I will link arms with those marching for climate action,” Moon told press on Tuesday. “We stand with them on the right side of this key issue for our common future.”
Joining a protest is an unusual step for a top U.N. official, but organizers are hopeful that this Sunday’s march – known as the People’s Climate March – will transcend the usual. With more than 1,400 partnering organizations behind it, from environmental and labor groups to schools and churches, planners expect attendance in the hundreds of thousands, which would make the march by far the largest climate mobilization in history.
Climate activists, familiar with the cycle of hope and disappointment that generally accompanies U.N. climate negotiations, are hoping that the New York march, along with more than 2,000 solidarity events planned in 150 countries, will jumpstart meaningful action by demonstrating the strength and size of their movement. “Public opinion on climate change has reached a tipping point,” says Jamie Henn, co-founder of the activist group 350.org, one of the march’s principal organizers. “We’re finally seeing the sort of movement we need to really put pressure where it counts.”
After a moment of silence and a “moment of alarm” (in which marchers – and more than 20 marching bands – will be encouraged to make as much noise as they possibly can), the march will wend its way through midtown Manhattan. Participants will be organized according to the message they’re hoping to convey: There will be sections of scientists under the banner “The Debate Is Over” and renewable energy proponents declaring, “We Have Solutions.” Vida James, a New York social worker, will be marching with the group called “We Know Who Is Responsible,” whose goal is to challenge corporate groups and others who they say stand in the way of climate action. “It’s the same every day,” says James. “Who are the people who are suffering, and who are the people who are profiting?”
James is also helping to organize an unaffiliated event called Flood Wall Street, planned for the day after the march. While the People’s Climate March has a city permit, Flood Wall Street will be an unauthorized sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange at which upwards of 100 people will risk arrest. Participants will wear blue to create a symbolic flood, meant to evoke sea level rise and Hurricane Sandy’s literal flooding of lower Manhattan.
“For me, I think of a flood being like a cleansing: Something new needs to come, the dirt needs to be washed away,” says James. “I personally feel a lot of passion about going to Wall Street and sitting down and saying, “Enough is enough, we need to do something else.”
Planning for the march has been ongoing since the winter, and in the last weeks activists have been working long hours to prepare floats, puppets and banners, and to organize logistics. But though the march is the big event, organizers say that what’s most important is what comes afterward.
“Organizing a big march is like throwing a rock in a pond,” says Henn. “The splash is exciting, but the real beauty is in the ripples. I’m confident the energy from this march will ripple out in all directions, from fossil fuel divestment fights on campus to the push for a global climate treaty in Paris.”