By Augusta Williams in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, MPH ’15
I’ve been passionate about climate change since I became an atmospheric science major as an undergraduate student. When I first heard about the People’s Climate March a few months ago, I knew that it was something I needed to be a part of. My peers are continually asking me how climate change impacts our health, and I saw the Climate March as a chance to raise awareness here at the intersection of changing climate and public health. I’ve been spending the last few weeks working with a great team to make sure that Mailman was well represented at the March this past Sunday. Now is my opportunity to report back. After taking some time to reflect, I’m optimistic that it wasn’t just my life that was impacted by that monumental day.
You could feel the energy building during our poster-making party on Friday, but it wasn’t until Saturday night that I really started to get excited. The planning was over. The hard work behind mobilizing Mailman was done. I felt like a child on Christmas Eve—too filled with excited anticipation to close my eyes. On Sunday morning, I knew that the world was about to change. People were decorating shirts, the wonderful CUMC security guards were wishing us luck, and our Mailman ‘flag’ was ready to go.
Sitting quietly on the subway ride down, I was trying to absorb every moment of this soon-to-be historic day, listening to the conversations around me. We made our way to the designated student section with our group, which was about 175 people strong. After learning that we were the first student group to arrive that morning, we burst into cheers.
The NYPD ushered us to the front of the barricade and gladly took our picture. I felt so calm in that moment—surrounded by my peers, having a clear view down Central Park West, and waiting for the masses to fill the void between Columbus Circle and us.
As the crowd grew, so did the momentum. People were cheering, dancing, signing in the streets. I haven’t been in New York City that long, but this was the first time it felt so electric. As soon as we got the go-ahead that it was our turn to begin, the crowd erupted with a chant of “We’re young! We’re strong! We’re marching all day long!” to solidify our representation as the student contingency. Continuing on our way, marching near some of the most iconic New York locations, the crowds lining the sidewalks chanted with us.
The most incredible moment of the event came for me at 12:58 p.m., when The People’s Climate March team decided there would be a moment of silence to honor those who have been negatively impacted by climate change. As the time crept closer, the silence started from the very front of the march, with people raising their hands and signaling to those behind as the action moved through the crowd. Hearing Manhattan go completely still is something I would have never been able to imagine. This quiet moment was immediately followed by the loudest possible burst of noise to celebrate the massive support and advocacy for climate change. As the sound traveled back towards the front of the crowd, it was if a physical creature was stampeding its way to the front of the herd. It will forever give me goose bumps and fill me with emotion. Even though those few minutes were only a small fraction of a great day, they were moments that I will never forget.
The latest figures estimate that 400,000 people were in attendance on Sunday, a completely unprecedented number, especially in the global climate change discussion. I am still overwhelmed that in both planning and actual fruition, the People’s Climate March wasn’t just about saving the planet. It was about saving each other, together.