Hundreds March Through San Francisco Demanding an End to Fossil Fuel Use
“We’re going to need every last one of you. The fight is really, finally, kind of on in this country,” said Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, to a crowd of children, college students, organizations, businesses and people in jaguar costumes. All of these people share one key trait: they are environmental activists.
Every powerful movement starts with getting attention, and that’s what the Moving Planet day was all about. On Saturday, September 24th, across the world, people of all different races, religions, and social classes gathered together to make their voices heard and demand an end to climate change. This included the people of the San Francisco Bay Area.
The march began in Justin Herman Plaza. People poured in from all directions, some on bikes, some on roller blades, and most on foot. The excitement built as people shared ideas about reversing climate change and others soared overhead on a giant zip line that stretched across the plaza. People chanted, “Ooh it’s hot in here! There’s too much carbon in the atmosphere! Take action! Take action! And get some satisfaction!”
The mood became dramatically more somber for a few minutes when a woman crossing the street to join the crowd was hit by a car, but if that doesn’t put fossil fuel vehicles in a negative light, what does? The woman thankfully survived, and an ambulance arrived very quickly. The marchers set off down Market Street.
People leaned out of cable cars and climbed on top of garbage cans to take pictures of the passing crowd, which included a giant Mother Earth puppet, an equally large Gandhi puppet, people in polar bear suits, an entourage of orange-helmeted Sungevity workers, and nude bicyclists.
Not everyone; however, looked entirely thrilled to see the crowd. Many bitter faces followed the smiling protesters, unamused by the disruption. Unfazed, two men growled back at the bystanders in their grizzly bear and polar bear costumes yelling, “Where’s the salmon! We want salmon!” as part of the Center for Biodiversity, whose volunteers all dressed as endangered species.
Although the crowd was obviously very diverse, many of the organizations were working together. Daniel Bell, a representative from Sungevity, a solar leasing company, explained how they are partnered with the Center for Biological Diversity. “If a non-profit wants to raise money we help them by donating to their cause every time one of their members installs solar panels.” Solar panels and endangered species do not have an obvious connection, but the people in these organizations are so committed to doing something about climate change that they have found a way to connect them.
Everyone in the crowd had different reasons for being there. Sharon, an intern at Code Pink, explained Code Pink’s presence by saying simply, “War is not green.” Their objective in attending this rally was to remind people that there is still a war going on in Afghanistan, and the resources the government is using over there could be going towards green technology and jobs.
Kiyohei, a twenty-one-year-old volunteer for Greenpeace, is a Japanese student spending a year abroad in San Francisco. “We wanted a lot of people to join the parade, and we made visuals, and we just wanted to spread the word around. That was our main objective.”
Other organizations had more specific goals. Sierra Club passed around postcards to be signed asking Bay Area politicians to pass legislation to make the area more accessible for an eco-friendly lifestyle. “We want to make sure that housing is done in a way where it’s quality housing but it’s in a livable, bikable, walkable community so people don’t have to drive to get to work, they don’t have to drive to get to school, they don’t have to drive unless they, like, want to go on a hike somewhere. And hopefully then they can take public transit,” said Michelle Myers, a Sierra Club activist.
There were even people who had different takes on the organizations with whom they were marching. Susanne Ludlow of Oakland came as part of the Center for Biological Diversity. While others from that organization dressed as polar bears or dolphins, the more recognized endangered species, she dressed as the extinction of the human race. “The environmental movement often leaves out people. I work in a very low-income community in East Oakland, and there are a lot of environmental diseases going on out there.”
For whatever reason people were there, they all united in the Civic Center. As people ate vegan goodies or grass-feed beef hot dogs and picked up information about organizations at various stands, guest speakers helped bring everyone together in their common goal.
Mike Brune, director of the Sierra Club, took the stage to say, “Ten years ago, President Bush and Vice President Cheney had a proposal to build 150 new coal fired power plants in almost every state across the country.” To which, the audience boo-ed. He went on to say, “Guess what happened? We started to organize, hundreds of local grass-roots groups all across the country, public health groups, environmental organizations, human-rights organizations, kids, scientists, teachers all got together. We started working in Wisconsin, and we shut the coal plant down.” The crowd cheered.
For most, if not all, their passion for activism did not dissipate as the crowd in the Civic Center thinned. Many are going to follow Bill McKibben to Washington DC to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, for which 1,253 have already been arrested for civil disobedience and peaceful protest.
Another person who already has his next environmental activism event planned is Dave Howes. He rode his bike from Palo Alto to San Francisco, about fifty miles, to attend the rally. He looked pretty tired, but this was just his warm up. Starting on October 2nd, Howes and hundreds of others are riding the 320 miles between Fortuna and San Francisco in five days. Why would someone do this? The Climate Ride raises money for climate and clean energy organizations while also raising awareness about environmental issues, and as Howes said, “I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do, so I signed up.”
This sort of crazy determination seemed to be contagious at this rally. Henry Sanchez is a professor from Argentina and is running barefoot from the tip of South America to Alaska. He has been away from his family for three years now, and he still has a long way to go. But, for him, it is worth it to run barefoot across two continents because he feels it symbolizes his “close connection to Mother Earth.”
It didn’t matter what each individual or organization was doing to demand a sustainable future. They were all united by the common need to save our planet, and it appears that they are not going away any time soon.
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