The Global People’s Climate Marches Were Massive. Here’s What Organizers Have Planned Next.

Pipeline fights, legal challenges and elections are driving the next phase of the climate resistance.

Kate Aronoff

A theme among many of the people marching Saturday was an energy around what would happen in the months to come in their own backyards. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

This last week­end was not the first People’s Cli­mate March. That hap­pened in New York City in Sep­tem­ber 2014, and was meant to coin­cide with a U.N. Gen­er­al Assem­bly meet­ing and to ramp up pres­sure ahead of inter­na­tion­al cli­mate talks in Paris the fol­low­ing win­ter. Draw­ing an esti­mat­ed 400,000 peo­ple, that first march was the largest-ever demon­stra­tion on the issue.

'Just as the Tea Party moved politics to the right, we can now be the Tea Party of the left.'

Its fol­low-up arrived at a dif­fer­ent time, polit­i­cal­ly. Don­ald Trump is pres­i­dent, and protests with tens of thou­sands of peo­ple are becom­ing more and more com­mon — and not just in cities like Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and New York.

Sim­i­lar march­es and demon­stra­tions were a reg­u­lar fea­ture of the Oba­ma years. Com­pli­ment­ed by year-round orga­niz­ing, they seemed to work. The Key­stone XL and Dako­ta Access pipelines were tem­porar­i­ly defeat­ed. The Paris Agree­ment was nego­ti­at­ed and the Clean Pow­er Plan showed at least a recog­ni­tion on Obama’s part that cli­mate change is a force to be reck­oned with.

All of these vic­to­ries could now be scaled back and more. Mustafa Ali left the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) short­ly after Trump announced his inten­tion to cut the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice pro­gram Ali had helped devel­op. A more than 20-year vet­er­an of the agency, he now works with the Hip Hop Caucus.

More folks are going to get sick, and — unfor­tu­nate­ly — more folks are going to die,” he said of pro­posed cuts to the pro­grams. It’s real­ly that simple.”

A theme among many of the peo­ple march­ing Sat­ur­day was an ener­gy around what would hap­pen in the months to come in their own backyards.

In the age of Trump, it’s a prag­mat­ic posi­tion. So long as Repub­li­cans con­trol Con­gress and the Oval Office, the like­li­hood of pass­ing either com­pre­hen­sive cli­mate leg­is­la­tion or shak­ing a pro-cli­mate exec­u­tive order out of Trump seems unlike­ly. Hope for curb­ing emis­sions is increas­ing­ly falling on states and ener­gy around stop­ping fos­sil fuel infra­struc­ture is focused along those projects’ pro­posed routes.

As the day start­ed to heat up (Sat­ur­day was tied as the hottest April 29th in D.C. his­to­ry), Rae Ann Red Owl spoke about the next phase of the fight against the Key­stone XL pipeline. A mem­ber of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, she gets her water from the Mis­souri Riv­er via the Mni Wiconi Project Act, which estab­lished a water pipeline that serves her home in arid Kyle, South Dako­ta, and sev­er­al others.

‘Mni Wiconi,’ that means water is life. And that’s why we’re here,” she says. If you look at Trump’s exec­u­tive orders, the pow­er that they have over our day-to-day lives is ridicu­lous. The jobs that they say they’re going to bring put our liveli­hoods at risk and put our earth at risk.”

Red Owl isn’t alone in her work against pipelines. Cher­ri Foytlin, direc­tor of Bold Louisiana, spoke Sat­ur­day with two of her chil­dren about the Bay­ou Bridge pipeline slat­ed to cross through their com­mu­ni­ty. The pipeline con­sti­tutes the tail end of the Dako­ta Access pipeline in the Gulf Coast, and could threat­en some 700 water­ways — if we were to let it,” as Foytlin said. She and oth­ers in south­ern Louisiana are look­ing to start up an encamp­ment to get in its way.

I believe that it is damn self­ish to put the effects of cli­mate change onto our grand­chil­dren,” she told the crowd.

The resis­tance to Trump’s fos­sil fuel dreams is tak­ing the fights to the courts as well. One of Trump’s sharpest crit­ics at the nation­al lev­el has been Mass­a­chu­setts Attor­ney Gen­er­al Mau­ra Healey, who showed up to sup­port the march Sat­ur­day. Along­side New York Attor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Schei­der­man, she has gone toe-to-toe with House Repub­li­cans in their probes over whether Exxon­Mo­bil mis­led the pub­lic about the exis­tence of cli­mate change. The some­what iron­i­cal­ly named House Sci­ence, Space and Tech­nol­o­gy Com­mit­tee — chaired by out­spo­ken cli­mate change denier Lamar Smith, a Repub­li­can from Texas — sub­poe­naed the attor­ney gen­er­al offices and sev­er­al green groups, requests they all chose to ignore. Healey was also among a group of state attor­ney gen­er­als suing Trump over his pro­posed Mus­lim trav­el ban.

We’ve sued the admin­is­tra­tion already. We’ll be suing them again,” Healey said.

She also ref­er­enced the 10-year anniver­sary of Mass­a­chu­setts v. EPA. In that case, Mass­a­chu­setts and sev­er­al oth­er states took the EPA to the Supreme Court over its neg­li­gence in reg­u­lat­ing cer­tain kinds of emis­sions. The deci­sion is among the most impor­tant Supreme Court cas­es in his­to­ry with regard to cli­mate, hav­ing estab­lished that the EPA has the author­i­ty to reg­u­late car­bon as part of its duty to pro­tect clean air and water. Unsur­pris­ing­ly, its repeal is being looked at by those on the right as a target.

The morn­ing after the march, around 150 peo­ple — most, but not all young — gath­ered in a com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter near Logan Cir­cle in D.C. to learn how to run for elect­ed office. First we march,” one slo­gan for the train­ing put it, and then we run.” Par­tic­i­pants split off into rooms dis­cussing strate­gies for local, state and fed­er­al bids. At the end of the train­ing, sev­er­al spon­sor­ing orga­ni­za­tions offered ongo­ing sup­port to those want­i­ng to run for office.

Just as the Tea Par­ty moved pol­i­tics to the right, we can now be the Tea Par­ty of the left,” Dominic Frongillo, co-founder of Elect­ed Offi­cials to Pro­tect New York, told the crowd in a morn­ing ses­sion. We can be the rev­o­lu­tion on the left that moves pol­i­tics to a pro­gres­sive direc­tion, and start on the local lev­el. It’s not going to take us 45 years.”

Kate Aronoff is a Brook­lyn-based jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing cli­mate and U.S. pol­i­tics, and a con­tribut­ing writer at The Inter­cept. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @katearonoff.
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