It was a chilly morning on the 21st of September when we rode the subway in New York with our placards and water bottles. We were going to the assembly point in front of the American Museum of Natural History to join the People’s Climate March in the United States. We were already running late as the Filipino contingent from the US, as well as those who flew in from home, just came from a mobilization in Union Square and a forum on climate justice the day before.
There were already several activities that had been ongoing for the week. The Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) had a two-day caucus determining how they would put their voice in the UN Climate Summit and the ways to strengthen their grassroots movements. Dr. Efleda Bautista, spokesperson of People’s Surge, came as a global ambassador for the Philippines as part of the 350.org activities. She is a survivor of Typhoon Yolanda and lost her home, relatives and friends to the typhoon last year.
The International League for Peoples Struggles (ILPS) comprised of activists from the US, the Philippines, Guatemala, Borneo, Mexico and other countries who are facing threats from climate disasters held a forum to discuss the climate crisis, environmental plunder, state violence and peoples resistance. The participants were from the US-based National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), Philippines Forum, Kalikasan, AGHAM, Gabriela NY, Anakbayan NJ, IBON International as well as representatives of other nations, migrant groups, women, gay and lesbian groups, labor, and other organizations as well.
I was fortunate to give a talk on the 20th to a US-wide audience through a webinar and a live audience of migrants and attendees of different nationalities. The talk was on climate change and ecological justice in the Philippines. I spoke together with Dr. Efleda and Terry Valens who heads NAFCON. Afterwards, we held a short program at the historic Union Square calling to address the root causes of the world’s crises and taking genuine action on climate change.
The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked heads of government, finance, business, and civil society to meet in New York for what is dubbed as the UN Climate Summit. Official events around that event had already started yesterday as the UN General assembly met at the UN headquarters. Ban Ki-moon hopes that a global agreement for climate action will be reached in 2015.
On the day of the march, all of us converged on 79th street under the Peace and Justice group which was already positioned 20 blocks away from the head of the march. The starting point was at the Columbus circle (59th street) just near the entrance of Central Park. The indigenous peoples from KAMP and Dr. Bautista joined the frontlines representing those bearing the brunt of climate change while behind us was another 10 blocks or more of protesters from various groups and affiliations.
Early 350.org predictions were that the marchers would number up to around 200,000 but the final count was that the crowd swelled to 400,000 as it reached midtown New York. Many more would have joined from the sidewalk but there were only designated entry points to join the march itself.
Stationed along the sidelines were steel fences and members of the New York Police Department. Although no untoward incident happened, one could feel the restrictive atmosphere of being caged within the fences. This highlighted the prevailing distrust of the people in New York and in other states of their police departments especially after recent episodes of police brutality such as that in Ferguson and in New York city itself.
The messages in the march were varied. There were the single issue campaigners such as one family asking to stop a pipeline in their village to be built, those saving particular animals, opposing fossil fuel use, pushing for alternative energy, and many more. Scientists also joined the march underlining the reality of climate change and rebuking those who deny the fact. Church people and interfaith groups highlighted man’s role in caring for creation.
There were groups with a more comprehensive analysis of the situation, refusing to separate climate issues from economics, war and human rights. As climate change creates more hazards for communities to face, it only aggravates whatever inequality you already have whether based on class, gender or race.
It is now easier to understand why we remain vulnerable as a nation despite all the climate hazard mapping and disaster risk reduction—our economic policies remain the same; the same economic policies that kept our people poor is keeping them without capacity to face increased hazards.
That was the clear message of the ILPS contingent, together with the International Action Center, members of labor groups and other migrant groups. We cannot just march for climate, we have to continue on demanding for genuine social change as these are not separate issues. The struggle for the environment is the same as the struggle for people’s rights and welfare. The struggle for the environment is the same struggle to build a better future for all.
Dr. Giovanni Tapang, Ph.D., is the lead convenor of AGHAM, the society of Filipino scientists advocating for science in the service of the people.