The People’s Climate March in New York City drew approximately 400,000 people last Sunday, 200 of whom were members of the college. The march, which lasted over five hours and spanned at least thirty blocks of Manhattan’s upper west side and midtown area at any single moment, preceded a United Nations climate summit where world leaders were expected to debate environmental issues. A press conference on Monday also announced new pledges to divest from fossil fuel companies, hitting the $50 billion mark for the movement. Among them was the Rockefeller Brothers Fund’s $860 million endowment, which owes its size to the Standard Oil Company.
While some schools, including Stanford University, Pitzer College, Hampshire College, have divested, most have declined to do so. Swarthmore, expressing concern that divestment would lead to smaller returns on its endowment and would not impact the fossil fuel industry, is among those that has not divested.
Swarthmore students met at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday and marched until past 3 p.m. There were both members of environmental groups on campus, like Mountain Justice (MJ), and students generally interested in the movement.
“Why wouldn’t you want to come to this march?” asked Amber Sheth ’18, who is not a member of any environmental organization on campus. “Climate change is something that affects all of us. If I have a chance to make a difference, then I want to do it.”
New MJ member Jeremy Seitz-Brown ’18 was equally excited to be a part of something so seemingly monumental.
“It’s awesome to be here with so many people from all over, making a forceful demonstration of what we stand for, the future that we hope for,” he said.
Chants of “this is what democracy looks like” and “another world is possible” rang across the sea of people for the duration of the march. The various groups present at the march stressed that environmental issues are closely linked with broader issues around social justice and that it takes a majority to move forward in the betterment of society. The event’s slogan, “to change everything, we need everyone,” emphasized that the climate movement necessitates systemic overhaul and mass participation to succeed. Accordingly, the march drew families, labor groups, anti-corporate campaigns, scientists, peace and justice groups and interfaith communities, apart from students, environmental groups and communities directly impacted by climate change.
Stephen O’Hanlon* ’17, one of several MJ students that helped organize transportation and housing for Swarthmore community members to attend the march, thinks this is precisely the importance of the event as a message to the world.
“The climate march showed how broad the climate movement has become and how much power we’ve built,” he said. “It was organized by a coalition of 1500 organizations … so really seeing the movement come together as a movement of movements shows how much support there is for climate action.”
O’Hanlon is also hopeful as a result of the students’ showing at the march. He expects to use that momentum to gain traction on campus and finally achieve divestment for Swarthmore.
“I think the march provided a really great opportunity for Swarthmore students to be engaged where they hadn’t been before,” he said.
The moment of silence in solidarity with those in the frontline of the march — groups currently experiencing the worst effects of climate change — was the most inspiring and astonishing moment of the entire march for O’Hanlon and many other Swarthmore students there.
After a countdown, the silence was sudden.
“It was crazy to think of 400,000 people all being silent,” O’Hanlon said.
A few seconds later, yells and roars rolled from the back of the march to the front, ultimately coming together into one big cheer.
New York’s march was one of many marches across the world. Approximately 6 million people marched on Sunday in over 70 countries. In New York alone, over 500 buses brought people from across the country.
*Stephen O’Hanlon is a columnist for the Phoenix. He had no role in the production of this article.