President Trump got out of Dodge on his 100th day in office, perhaps wishing to avoid the company of the 200,000-or-so People’s Climate Mobilization activists converging on Washington, DC. But anywhere he went in the US on Saturday, he would likely have run into some protestors who don’t like the way his administration is denying the scientific community’s consensus on the dangers and causes of climate change. Right here in the Hudson Valley, for instance, several rallies and marches took place; and the one that traversed the Walkway Over the Hudson was reported by its organizers to have drawn 3,000 participants.
That’s way too many to be permitted on the bridge at any one time, so the People’s Climate March Over the Hudson was a long, straggly affair. But in spite of the wait to cross, the hot sun and high humidity, the mood of the marchers seemed more upbeat and cheerful than indignant. Helping set the tone were the Mardi Gras-flavored renditions of “Down by the Riverside,” “Wade in the Water,” “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “We Shall Overcome” played by the marching band known as Tin Horn Uprising.
The event kicked off with what was billed as a People’s Climate Activist Fest on the Poughkeepsie side of the Walkway, with literature distribution tables set up by such organizations as Clearwater, Scenic Hudson, the Sierra Club, the Coalition against the Pilgrim Pipelines and Planned Parenthood — not to mention one where you could register to vote. A Kids’ Crafts Tent enabled younger participants to make origami flowers, fish from paper plates and signs to carry while marching. Before the line of march assembled to step off, Clara Soaring Hawk Hasbrouck, Deer Clan chief of the Ramapough Lenape Nation, based in Mahwah, offered a blessing as a hawk soared overhead. “It’s a sign!” said one protestor to her neighbor.
Signs of the graphic variety were much in evidence, displaying slogans ranging from Washington Post headlines and quotes from Teddy Roosevelt and the Lorax to puns, pleas, rhymes and artwork. Many referenced the Hudson River, and a few pop culture, such as “Climate change is the new Death Star” and “Every disaster movie starts with an ignored scientist.” Perhaps most poignant of all was a very small girl bearing a sign that simply said, “Earth Inheritor.” A tee-shirt updating an iconic poster of the antiwar movement of the ‘70s to say “Climate change is not healthy for children and other living things” was completely sold out before the march even got underway.
Efforts by organizers with bullhorns to inspire chanted slogans went largely unheeded as marchers strode or strolled across the bridge, many getting their first sunburn of the season. Some paused to photograph or wave to a flotilla of about a dozen “kayaktivists” approaching the Walkway on the river itself, while the sloop Clearwater cruised downstream to the Mid-Hudson Bridge and then circled back north again. When the vanguard of the Climate March reached the Highland side, there was a two-minute “moment of silence” meant to honor those most impacted by climate change, followed by the clangor of a “climate alarm” before the walkers began returning to their starting point.
The crowd thinned out somewhat at the end of the march, but many stayed to hear the lineup of speakers. Former New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet, now director of the New York Hunger Action Network, compared the battle against global warming to the struggle for women’s suffrage a century ago, urging climate activists to run for public office. Wappingers Falls mayor Matt Alexander talked about his community’s efforts to replace aging infrastructure after its water supply became too polluted to use, saying that it took persistent advocacy from citizens to get results. “Get involved,” he said. “Most important, be a pain in the ass!”
Joanne Steele of the Mid-Hudson Group of the Sierra Club, one of the event’s sponsors, and New Paltz-based “fracktivist” Amanda Sisenstein also spoke. But the headliner was Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor who narrowly lost her 2016 race for the 19th Congressional District seat to John Faso. “It’s good that we’re talking about Donald Trump, but don’t count that as your activism,” she warned the crowd, saying that the next step in addressing the climate crisis is to “build the human infrastructure that we need.” Citing highlights of the Hudson Valley’s role in the history of environmental advocacy, Teachout said, “How incredible is it that fracktivists in New York State took on the most powerful industrial interests in the country and won?…We owe it to Peter Seeger to maintain that.” She urged her listeners to focus their efforts locally on such issues impacting the Hudson River corridor as oil pipelines, “bomb trains” and proposed oil tanker anchorages.
Alexandria Wojcik of New Paltz, one of the organizers of the Walkway event, echoed Teachout’s closing remarks: “If New York’s anti-fracking movement taught us anything, it’s that the Hudson Valley is a Petri dish for effective grassroots organizing. We’ve already stood up to some of the scariest supervillains of our time, looked them directly in the eyes and, after years of persistence, we won. We already know how to resist, and we just need to apply the same tactics on an even bigger scale now. Today is just the beginning of the next phase of the People’s Climate Movement.”