Organizer’s Report: The People’s Climate March

I’ve now been home for exactly one week from my journey on behalf of South Bay 350 Climate Action Group to New York City for the People’s Climate March and Flood Wall Street.  

IMG_5789As we previously wrote, we were driven to be there for the People’s Climate March to support 350’s organizing efforts and because we believe that “To Change Everything We Need Everyone” and that included us.

We were also asked to volunteer and help with security at the March and we grateful to be able to help and to experience the March from a different perspective.  

The day before the march I attended a briefing and training conducted by long experienced pros who knew their stuff and how to communicate it.  We spent hours going over the logistics and rules of the march.

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Steve Sherman, People’s Climate March Coordinator – Security Marshals and Peacekeepers speaks to the volunteers during the training and briefing session. (photo by Joe Galliani)

The March was set to kick off at 11:30 am and we were told to be at 62nd St. and Park Avenue West at 7am Sunday morning to get our hats, shirts, equipment and team assignments and then get our specific instructions.

“You’re a team five security marshal,” said the guy checking my name on his clipboard who asked me what size shirt I wore.  He hollered out to the next guy down the line with a clipboard, “He gets a radio!  Team Five!”  I moved down the line and got my walkie talkie, spare battery and microphone cord set and went looking for other Team Fivers.  

As I struggled to thread the radio cords under my shirt and clip the walkie talkie and mic where they were supposed to go, a fellow team 5 member, who just happened to work in television production, kindly offered to help me out and by 8am I was all set, cup of coffee and bagel in hand.  We headed over to the middle of Columbus Circle

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New York City Police Officer, Spinosa, with South Bay 350 Climate Action Group Organizer, Joe Galliani, pre March shutdown of Columbus Circle, People’s Climate March, Sept 21, 2014

Team Five was assigned to first secure Columbus Circle and work with the New York City Policy to keep people from entering via car, bike, foot or otherwise.  But as we moved into place in the middle of the famous traffic circle for our instructions we learned we had a couple of other key assignments.  

First and foremost was maintaining the safety and integrity of the march.  And they had a few specific tasks that Team Five would be responsible for.

pcm-route-lineup-v6The March was broken down into six segment categories starting with indigenous peoples, environmental justice groups and frontlines peoples groups as the first segment.

As we watched the groups march by to kick off the March at 11:20 am we could immediately tell this was going to be far bigger than any of us originally anticipated. First of all from Columbus Circle looking down Central Park West we couldn’t see the end of the people as the Marchers packed the streets well past 86th street.

People's Climate March

Throngs of thousands and thousands of peoples march by us with a spirit and an energy I’ve only really seen at game seven of major league sports championships or at the Olympics.  An exceptionally positive vibe that was empowered and authenticated and amplified by the people of every describable and indescribable type who all shared it and who knew that they were part of something bigger and more powerful than they had allowed themselves to imagine.

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NYC Police officer gives instructions and encouragement to Team Five volunteer Security Marshals in Columbus Circle, Sunday, Sept 21, 2014. (photo by Joe Galliani)

When the last group within the first section of the March passed through Columbus Circle, Team Five working with Team Six Security Marshals swept across the March route to form a human chain to literally stop the March and its hundreds of thousands waiting to proceed in its tracks and hold it there. 

march routeWe held them back so that all the labor groups who were participating, and there were tens of thousands of them who spent hours massing and singing and filling Broadway on the other side of Columbus Circle, could March right into place behind the first March segment to lead the way for the We Can Build the Future section of the March..  

The Labor contingent was right on time and raring to go and came pouring down Broadway to follow the first section of the March as soon as they turned left on 59th Street.  The” We Can Build the Future” group we were holding back from marching were cheering ecstatically for the huge and boisterous turnout of Labor.  And that energy and pent up desire to start marching was all unleashed the moment the last Labor group swung into the route and we unbroke the human chain and stepped aside to let the March continue.

1795145_353276561506404_3357967707193404798_oAfter that we sprinted into action several blocks away on 6th Avenue to catch up with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Al Gore, UN head Ban Ki Moon, Jane Goodall and a host of VIPs we didn’t get to ID for our final Security Marshal assignment – to form another another ring of people to serve as a buffer between the VIPs and their security contingents as they marched and the paparazzi and other press who were desperate to get into the earshot circle.  At one point we all got down on one knee to allow the photographers to get their shots.

Google ChromeScreenSnapz012And the most moving part of the March came while we were performing this VIP encirclement task as preciously at 1 pm everything and everyone went completely still and silent – as had been planned. But even though expected, it was a goosebumps moment when you looked up and down 6th Avenue massed fulled of people filling the streets and more filling the sidewalks and every one of them frozen in place as if by some greater force.  

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And then after the designated one minute of silence a roar arose and built and built until it became uncomfortably loud – and that was, after all the whole point – to sound the alarm bell and raise the alert.

We had seen something and now we were all saying something and it felt good to be making this noise while surrounding the powerful elites we were “protecting.”

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The VIPs bailed just before we reached 42nd Street and team 5 had then finished our assignment.  Several of us doubled back to the beginning of the March to help out with security and get to see more of the Marchers  And that we did for hours until it was time to get to 11th Avenue and 34th street for the post March block party.  

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Team Five Security Marshals heading back to the starting point after serving as VIP security.

One thing was obvious before the numbers even came out.  We had blown past the hoped for minimum of 100,000 people in the streets and had easily four times that many men, women and children.  Many tens of thousands more were turned away after waiting all day for their groups in back of the line that had no end, because it was simply too late for them to start marching by the time the groups in front of them had marched ahead.

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The keys to the success of the March and the entire week of climate activities in New York at the end of last month was inclusion, humility, mutual respect, patience and constant communication.  The result was a unified and powerful force the likes of which we have never seen before in the climate, environment, social justice and human rights communities before.

People's Climate March

And that is exactly what we talked about understanding, nurturing and exporting back to our home communities in the followup leadership meetings I attended after the March.  And it is why we came back from this trip with a renewed commitment to collaborate and partner with the inland communities of our South Bay where more people of color live and work and where the people most often suffer the greatest exposure to freeway and industrial emissions and health impacts.  We’re talking about the cities of Inglewood, Gardena, Lomita, Lawndale, Carson, and Hawthorne.  

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Flood Wall Street (photo by Joe Galliani)

It was those communities we were also thinking about when we attended Monday’s Flood Wall Street protests and demonstrations.  We understand that the number one reason that we have not taken the necessary urgent action to move from fossil fuels to renewable energy is that wrecking the climate for profit continues to make the richest of the rich even richer and that part of their riches are used to work against us taking the necessary action.

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Broadway and Wall Street successfully flooded (photo by Joe Galliani)

We chose not to get arrested as we had no desire to visit the New York City justice system infrastructure and we had meetings that week in DC we didn’t want to miss. But we were very happy to be part of Monday’s action in the heart of the world’s financial center and we have to give a tip of the hat to New York’s Finest who did their jobs with respect and good nature every time I saw or encountered them.

And now we’re back in the South Bay and we’re reaching out to citizens, City Council members and City staff members in Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Lomita, Gardena, and Carson – the cities of the South Bay that don’t have a shoreline or oceanfront property but whose right to enjoy a clean, healthy and thriving ocean, beaches and coastline are equal to mine and equally cherished.

We want to work closely in collaboration with our brothers and sisters throughout the South Bay and form the same kind of unified and energized front line community partnership that made the New York People’s Climate March the powerful force it was and still reverberates as.

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