What's Next After the Peoples Climate March? Riding the Momentum and Bringing It Home

May 2, 2017 | 11:20 am
Photo: UCS/Anthony Eyring
Erika Spanger-Siegfried
Director of Strategic Climate Analytics

Were you at the 2017 Peoples Climate March? Or one of its sister marches? If so—or if you just caught the story on the news—you know that something big just happened.

In 90+ degree heat, just a week after an overlapping science march, an estimated 200,000 people turned out in Washington, DC to show their anger and resolve for US climate action. Tens of thousands more took part at an additional 370 marches across the country.

So now what?

The climate justice block of the People’s Climate March gets ready to march. Credit: UCS/Audrey Eyring

Marchers will long remember the heat that day. It forced many people to the sidelines for shade, rest, and hydration. I rested there about halfway through with my group of 20 friends and family, while my 72-year old dad tried to recover from heat exhaustion and my kids blew bubbles over the streaming crowd. He had taken the sleepless overnight bus from Maine so he could travel with his activist friends. When my aunt tried to get him to leave he asked to sit a while and “watch his people” march by. In all our glory.

For people like him who have been at this a long time, and for those new to the fight who need a reason to stay in it, the march is a chance to see a whole world of people of common cause, be reminded of our strength, and return to our work with new resolve. In this political moment, April 29, 2017 was a unique gift.

These two boys traveled from Massachusetts for the march. My son on the left. His friend’s sign reads: Climate Warrior in the Making. Photo: Erika Spanger-Siegfried

By all accounts, the march was a success. But now we’re back home, rested, and wondering: what now?

There are paths from the march to the kind of climate wins we so badly need—and UCS is working hard to identify and prioritize which high-impact actions should come next. But there’s one tactic that all of us should employ as we return to our daily lives in the wake of this historic march: We need to bring it home. The most egregious actions may be coming from DC, but many of the fights to block them must play out locally.

We need to take every opportunity to be heard, to say loud and clear that undercutting climate science and sidelining climate solutions is bad for our country, our economy, our community, and our families.

We need to speak up in our local papers, at public events, with opinion leaders and influential communities, with our neighbors, and with our elected officials.

We need to remind everybody that America runs on science, that America depends on climate solutions, and that we will keep fighting until we get there.

Momentum and resolve: It’s not the moment, it’s the movement.

Like so many other groups, UCS was out in force on Saturday (we were the ones rolling the giant chalkboard). And like so many others, we were there not only because of our history of work on climate change, but also because in this moment, with climate science and policy under assault, the climate movement can not afford to be back on its heels; we need to regain our momentum and show our resolve.

The climate fortunes have swung far, too far, and in a terrible direction. Now it’s time to come roaring back.

The crowds that mustered for this march showed that the reversal is under way and gaining momentum.

The Peoples March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” succeeded in bringing together one of the broadest coalitions in recent memory: scientists, environmental justice advocates, indigenous groups, youth leaders, faith groups, policy advocates, labor groups, business leaders, green groups, human rights groups, politicians, and more… and at the fore of it all, everyday folks from communities on the front lines of climate change. Check out these beautiful photos. It’s a big tent, with a deliberately broad agenda: in the motto “We Resist, We Build, We Rise,” there’s something for everyone to rally behind.

And as we find our place in this movement, we—as individuals and organizations—need to clarify our role, take it up, and live into it with resolve.

One role in the movement: Standing up for science

For many of us, that role is standing up for science.

There are some key tactics that the current administration is deploying as part of its strategy to dismantle existing climate policies and advance science-free policy making, to the non-coincidental benefit of fossil fuel interests. These include anti-science rhetoric, staffing federal agencies with anti-science administrators, denying or misleading on science, and pursuing deep budget cuts to vital science-based functions of the federal government.

One role is to stop them wherever we can.

UCS—including our science network, members, and half a million activists—is keeping a close eye as a watchdog for anti-science policy actions and budget cuts at the federal level, and activating measures to push back on assaults by Congress and the administration. Even with federal leadership as egregiously anti-science as this, this is something we and this movement know how to do.

But none of us came here to play defense for four years. And as our movement gains momentum, opportunities will open up for us to combine our defensive stance with an offensive one.

This march was planned many months ago to mark the 100th day in office of the new president. Many of us anticipated pushing for stronger climate policies under a climate-friendly president. No one imagined 100 days quite like these, but here we are. And right now the climate movement—and the larger “resistance” it is part of—have incredible energy and, let’s face it, anger to channel. So let us start taking the fight to them.

We resist. We build. We rise.

This is what it looks like when 200,000 people march together for climate, jobs, and justice. It is absolutely beautiful. Together, we will chart a different path forward: away from Trump’s agenda of a cruel, polluted, and divided country, and towards a clean energy economy that works for everyone.

Posted by People's Climate Movement on Sunday, April 30, 2017

Going on offense: Showing up, speaking out, making it hurt

After months spent largely on defense, strategies are gelling to channel the national climate movement into dispersed, localized climate action. Many of the attacks on science originate from DC, but most must be fought locally. So here are some thoughts:

  • Going after attacks on science – Denying climate science and denigrating climate scientists is a tactic that has had too many users and too few costs for those who use it. It’s time for constituents to raise the political costs for elected leaders, and make it hurt, politically, when they deploy anti-science rhetoric or actions.
  • Fighting silence (and complicity) – Science, facts, and reason form the very foundation of a strong democracy—indeed, of America itself. They protect our health. They keep our communities, families, and children safe. They safeguard our future. And right now, too many elected leaders are silent as science, facts, and reason are dragged through the mud on their watch. It’s time to start calling out the spinelessness of these elected officials and hold them accountable when they let such threats to our democracy go unchallenged. Looking back, no one will parse the difference between silence and complicity. History has its eyes on them—and we’ve got their offices on speed dial.
  • Standing with each other – To “Resist, Build and Rise” we need to strengthen our movement even as it grows. A colleague’s favorite quote from the PCM organizing experience was “If you’re not arguing, your coalition isn’t big enough.” Creating space to grow—for groups to see themselves in the movement, step in, find a voice and a role—is vital. For us to hold that growing movement together, though, and see it grow stronger, we need to be good allies. Individuals or groups need to find and take opportunities to stand with each other and elevate those voices that too often get drowned out—and we need to do so not just on march day.

Resistance groups like Indivisible and the Town Hall Project have captured specific tactics for going on offense locally—strategies and tactics that are relevant for and essential to the climate fight. We in the climate movement can label the nesting dolls however we like, depending on our priority issues; the point is the fights are often one and the same, and so many of the tactics can be as well. Here are some:

  • Contact your legislators and keep on contacting. Phone calls work. If you can’t get through to their Washington, DC, office, try your local office. It’s also effective to send postcards.
  • Plan to visit your legislators during a congressional recess. You can find out when your legislators are home for work periods by checking here for the Senate and here for the House.
  • When planning your visit, think about people you know who could be powerful persuaders, especially friends who are from another party, who are medical or public health professionals, or who represent business, faith, or veterans groups.
  • Watch your local news and read your local paper. Respond quickly to stories, articles, or opinion pieces that cast doubt on climate science or downplay the need for climate action. Tips for responding to the media can be found here.
  • Show up at town halls held in your district or in neighboring cities and be heard. You can find information on upcoming town halls here. And remember, speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.
  • You can of course join a UCS mailing list, watch out for action alerts from us, and make time to take the action suggested. Whenever possible, go beyond the one-click action: Personalize your email to your legislator or your comment to a federal agency. Or show up at a rally outside your legislator’s office.
  • And stay in touch with the Peoples Climate Movement and with UCS as we roll out tactics and tools for getting this job done.

Until next time….

During the march, my seven-year old struggled with the heat, especially during the long stretch before the crowds began moving. He was sporting a T-shirt hand-painted for the march. (Al Gore, god love him, had been kind enough to praise his choice of text, “Small But Mighty,” and ignore the giant chocolate ice cream stain running neck to waist.) He had been chanting to himself in the bathroom “when I say climate, you say justice!” He had made his own sign and used at least 300 pieces of tape to secure it to the pole. He was ready!

Only now he was done. Spent. Ready to go home.

Sound familiar?

We took turns blowing up an enormous, oversized beach ball and when it was done, he launched it into the sea of people. It was volleyed around our area for a while, but as warned, soon bounced out of sight, the sound of delighted marchers wafting back to us. Mid-way through the march, I hoisted him up to see it again, far in the distance, this time being sent high into the air by many hands on a painted parachute. He glowed. Just like I did, two-stepping with strangers to a brass band. Just like my dad did watching us all stream by. Maybe just like you did at some point on April 29.

And with that, one 7-year old was refreshed and ready for action. Strangers celebrating the simplest joys, even while engaged in one of the strongest acts of protest: it’s a gift we give each other that renews and stays with us.

Thank you, people of the Peoples Climate March. Until next time.

The Guardians of the Future, the group my family marched in, make their way through the heat. Photo: UCS/Audrey Eyring