It goes without tweeting that we’re all doing our part to dent President Donald Trump on social media. Nevertheless, the scoundrel proceeds in characteristic undeterred fashion, hell bent on impaling every crevice of the coast and country where a natural resource might be hiding. And so with the nightmare of eroding justice on the climate front an increasing reality, many have brought their rebellion beyond Twitter, and have taken to the streets and squares of towns and cities nationwide in numbers not seen since the Occupy movement. Including many places around here, in case you haven’t noticed.
Austerity eras and villainous people in power spur more than just small protests, and so we have seen major actions in the past couple of months. The Peoples Climate March in Washington, DC on Saturday, April 29, has the makings of a record-setter, with more than 900 organizations supporting the march, from social justice fronts to moderate and more radical environmental groups. There are also 300-plus sister marches around the world, including one in Boston. Their unified mission: Stand up to the “fossil fuel industry, demand solutions, and stand up for the people on the front lines of the climate crisis.”
As we like to do in times like these, the Dig reached out to people who are putting in the legwork, helping organize the marches in DC and Boston, or in some cases sacrificing the time to travel and attend. Thanks to David Klafter, a volunteer coordinator who is en route to DC right now, as well as Katherine Anderson of Better Future Project, and Paola, a protester and atmospheric scientist, for answering our questions before heading into action.
How long have you been engaging in environmental activism? Will this be your first major demonstration, or have you been to more than you can count?
KA: I was that person in high school who sorted everyone’s trash for recycling, so environmental activism isn’t new to me, but now that I’m 30, I see climate change as much bigger than the classical environmentalism we’ve thought of as preservation of nature … It’s an issue that threatens global political stability that will hurt vulnerable communities most.
DK: For about 4 years. I have been to a number of demonstrations, both large and small.
PAOLA: I started paying more attention to the importance of environmental activism in 2014, after participating to the New York Climate March—a very powerful experience. It took me some extra time to become active with local groups in the Boston area, but I am glad I did. I’ve been an active member of both 350Mass (Cambridge node) and Mothers out Front (Somerville node) since early 2016. I’m not a demonstration veteran, but I have participated [in] a few events. And many more to come.
What’s the primary reason that you are dedicated to this particular movement? In what form did your wake-up call come?
KA: I am dedicated to the climate movement because it’s going to make so many other issues I care about worse, like economic inequality, self-serving American “diplomacy,” racial justice, health care. I’ve had so many wake up calls over the years, but the most recent one was the documentary Age of Consequences about climate change and national security. Knowing that the US military considers climate change a threat because of how it’s already destabilizing nations across the planet made me even more worried about how much suffering is to come if we can’t secure a livable climate for the next generations.
DK: I have been aware of the potential dangers of climate change for many years. I first read about it when I was in college in the ’60s. I have long thought that it was a problem that our leaders would not deal with seriously unless pressured. But it always took a back seat for me to other forms of political activism until a few years ago. At that point, I started to see addressing climate change as a way to also get at addressing a number of other problems, as it requires a thorough restructuring of our economy in order to make the needed progress in greenhouse gas emission reductions. Hopefully in the process of doing this, we can also begin to deal with the drastic increase in income inequality we have seen in the last few decades.
PAOLA: I am an atmospheric scientist, working primarily characterizing air pollutants and emissions from different types of sources. The concern for environmental problems is at the core of who I am. Becoming an environmental activist is the result of a slow-growing sense of awareness that much more needs to be done in addition to make measurements. I feel that I have the civic duty to be “outside” of the laboratory and use all the available avenues to ask our elected officials to be on our side in the fights for a clean environment. For me, being part of an environmental movement closes the loop.
Is there an article or book you’ve read about the threats posed to the planet that you would recommend to someone who is considering dedicating themselves to fighting polluters and other villains?
PAOLA: The one that comes in mind is a book (and documentary) by Naomi Klein called This Changes Everything. It offers a very broad overview of the environmental issues we are facing, what is standing on the way of solving them, and what the “people movement” can do to move the needle in the right direction. It is a very comprehensive reading, highlighting the complexity of the system we live in
Speaking of villains, I couldn’t help but to have noticed that while things were almost looking decent for a while for activist fronts battling things like natural gas and oil line expansion, the administration of Donald Trump is obviously not making things easier. What do you see as the necessary change in strategy for environmental advocates?
KA: The Trump administration’s dismissal of the climate threat means state and local must take bold leadership and quickly steer our communities towards sensible clean energy solutions. In a way, this new reality is energizing because people can no longer turn over responsibility for creating a clean energy future to the federal government. Now there’s no denying that our future is in our own hands. And mobilizations like the March for Science and the Peoples Climate March suggest that people are rising to the occasion.
DK: Many of the basics remain the same. But we clearly will need to shift our focus to making gains on the state level, as our efforts on the national level are going to be mostly damage control. We should also let all our elected officials know that they will pay a high political price for currying favor with the fossil fuel industry. And we should make sure that Trump has to wear his anti-climate agenda like an albatross around his neck!
PAOLA: These are very tough times for everyone, in many different ways. It is unfortunate that basic rights such as clean air and clean water are getting so little respect right now. Things that should be a given have become entrenched with politics because of the lobbying power of special interest groups and their influential money. Breaking this circle is not easy, as changes are needed at the system level. Environmental advocates need to keep demanding that the basic forms of environmental protection are restored, and that actions are taken to slow down climate change. We also need to do it on behalf of the ones who do not have the opportunity to speak out.
What’s different about this round of marches? If things go the way you would like them to go, what will the actions and efforts that come out of these demonstrations look like?
DK: We are in a new political period, as alluded to above. We have made real progress in allying our movement with the demands of the broader movement for economic and social justice, and in expanding our coalition into important segments of the population that were at times less connected to the climate movement. I think we need to keep broadening and deepening the movement and its ties to the broadest possible progressive movement. If we can do this, I see the dark period we are currently in giving way to a new era of meaningful positive change.
PAOLA: I think the level of people engaging has been growing over the last few months. The conversation about climate change and environmental justice has become mainstream. People are worried about what is happening to our climate, to our air and water, and to our national parks and so on. I think that marches and demonstrations eventually manage to get the message across. The people movement is real and our elected officials will eventually have to listen.
Here are two buses leaving from Boston for DC on Friday, April 28:
Boston buses to the Peoples Climate March
- Departure: Fri April 28th at 10:30 PM
- Location: Park St Station and First Unitarian Society of Franklin
- Get tickets for 10:30pm bus
Sierra Club Massachusetts bus to the Peoples Climate March
- Departure: Fri April 28th at 9:30 PM
- Location: Boston South Station
- Get tickets for the 9:30pm bus