By: Br. Kevin Cawley
There are always questions for some about the worth of public demonstrations on behalf of good causes. Assembling large contingents requires, among other concerns, months and months of careful planning and long discussions about logistics, permits, line of march, themes, signage requirements and restrictions, transport logistics, costs to participants in time and money, alternative routes, weather contingencies, constituencies to accommodate, and security issues for sensitive locations. And so the decision to march in Washington, D.C., was taken in June 2016, well before the outcome of the November election for president. The challenge to Earth in these times cannot be more vividly framed for those who are paying close attention. No matter who was elected U.S. President, the message had to be carried to Washington in the first 100 days of the new administration: we, the people, need you to lead wisely and make common cause with global partners to reduce the disruptions of the climate that we know are the result of human activity.
We now know too much to take a relaxed attitude toward the disruption in the climate cycle and an array of other disturbing signals on the health of Earth and ultimately the health of all living creatures. And so on Saturday, April 29, some 200,000+ citizens of the U.S. gathered on the streets of Washington to make clear their deep concern and growing distress about the failure of leadership at the federal level to come to terms with our predicament and take decisive action. The distress has only deepened with the news that on the day of the march the Environmental Protection Agency was busy purging its website of information about climate change — including critical details on the Clean Power Plan. This groundbreaking plan to reduce climate pollution from our nation's power plants is our most important tool for tackling climate change. And it's a prime target of President Donald Trump and his EPA chief Scott Pruitt's war on climate action.
We needed to show up and put people on the streets to help the deciders to realize that people care deeply about their decisions. We believe that they cannot maintain the usual calm and reasonable sounding tone of “doing what is best” for the country if hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens are making the sacrifice to journey for many hours and protest for many hours and endure many hours returning to their homes in the dark of the next morning. To make a point. To be certain that their concerns are dramatized. To share their dismay.
The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue had already marched for Science on April 22 in New York and the Washington March the following week. There was no question but to step up once again and join with colleagues to make our concerns public. On April 29, by 6 a.m. the bus from New Rochelle was full and ready to depart City Hall. Our driver, Mike, started the day with energy and good cheer and we raced down the New Jersey Turnpike before stopping for a break in Pierpont, N.J., for a half hour to stretch. A full bus and parts of the ride quite bumpy so sleeping was not easy. We arrived at RFK Stadium in D.C. slightly after noon. A few photos and a walk to the metro where we sorted out our train passes and our roster and joined several hundred fellow marchers from WEACT in New York. A few stops later at Federal Circle we left the metro and began a hot walk to locate our stepping off point with the faith groups organized by GreenFaith. Washington is well organized, but it is planned for large gatherings which means that things are far apart for those used to the closely jammed grid of New York. Long walks ensued at each shift of location. Our group arrived to see a curb to curb assemblage of fellow marchers in the faith contingent. We found our friends, Carl Procario-Foley and his daughter Susann, who had traveled by car ahead of us. Cell phone magic again.
The marching was slow stepping in hot sun. Signs were abundant and some full of humor. Nearly all were homemade. You could imagine a lot of kitchen tables covered with poster board, markers, tape, scissors, cardboard, more tape and even some artistry alongside the usual hasty scrawls. There were periodic roars and at one point a full sit down for one minute of silence, a “heartbeat” for the planet. Later, there were cries of “shame,” “shame,” “shame” as groups passed the newly refurbished Trump Hotel in the former Post Office building. A wonderful abundance of community at large come together to call out the leadership that will not or cannot seem to lead wisely on these fundamental questions. Speaking truth to power with magic marker. How are we to live sustainably in this time and leave a livable planet behind for the generations to follow us? What are we being called to? How do we bring the changes needed?
The day in D.C. concluded with hot, sleepy, deeply weary but exhilarated marchers heading back to the Metro stop at the Smithsonian. We found ourselves passing a large Federal building on our left whose front steps and plaza were strewn with signs laid to rest in a fashion at the doorstep. The building plaque identified it as the EPA. Marchers had spontaneously been leaving their pleading signs for care of Earth at the doorstep of the beleaguered EPA, like abandoned crutches at Lourdes, hoping for our own miracle here in Washington.
The pilgrimage ended at near midnight in New Rochelle as Mike discharged the final passengers at the parking lot in New Rochelle City Hall. Several bonds of friendship were sealed with exchanges of cards and promises to email to keep in touch. More allies in the great work.