The feeling that remains in me following the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. is one of renewal. Spring in the northeast has a lot to do with sustaining it. A wood thrush is singing in our woods again (miracle of miracles, given their steady decline in the northeast), a newly arrived pair of gray catbirds are eagerly consuming the mealworms in our feeder, bluebird nestlings can be heard peeping from the nest box. It is a time of renewal of life and of faith.
But to witness the strength and determination of that huge crowd clogging the streets of D.C.; to be with so many in their teens and 20s climbing those big trees on the Ellipse to get a better picture of the immense crowd; to see faces of all colors; to feel the pounding pulse of the drummers from North Carolina who never once stopped their rhythm from 11 am to 4 pm; to see sweat pouring off a not so young woman from that same state determined to keep her banner aloft despite the gusts of wind on Pennsylvania Avenue almost (but not quite) as determined to bring it down; to stay in the close company of three very determined New York State women, each about 76 years young, keeping to their feet all day in 92 degrees (one keeping beat with the drummers with a whistle); these are all impressions I will not soon forget and which renew my faith in humankind.
So, I went to keep faith with myself; and to know that others are also not paralyzed by fear of what climate change is doing to their world, and to sense hundreds of thousands gathered in one small space in the seat of the nation drumming in unison that climate denial is not and will not be our fate. Confrontation en masse around the White House is a necessary part of that message. So are reason, knowledge, technical skill and investment in renewable energy. So is spirituality.
In fact, my day in Washington started by following three local leaders of the Reformed Church of America to church for lessons in “creation care.” A Service of Prayer and Sending at the Lutheran church near the nation’s Capital began with refreshment. Dehydration was already widespread in the marchers who had come off the buses at the Lincoln Memorial and walked up Independence Avenue. The church had laid on orange juice, bagels and cream cheese, bananas and muffins. What gifts! What a blessing! Then we sang For the Beauty of the Earth, and confessed “for like Adam and Eve, in our desire to taste the good life, we overstep the boundaries you have placed on your Creation, for self-centered living, and for failing to walk with humility and gentleness, for reluctance in sharing the gifts of God, and for carelessness with the fruits of creation, and for actions and inactions that cause harm to creation.”
This was followed by an interdenominational readings and reflections by five faith ministers. Blessed may be the peacemakers but peace on this day, said one, means placing your bodies on the line and in confrontation without violence. It was a beautiful way to start the march. Thank you, pastors Daniel Carlson and Kent Busman of the Reformed Church in Schenectady and in Kent’s case, Director of Camp Fowler in Speculator, for leading us off the bus to this place – before we were caught up in the sea of humanity that was flooding Third and Jefferson. Far too rarely is the power of spirituality and the need for “creation care” expressed in our environmental circles. I recalled what the Rev. Jeffrey Golliher (Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in NYC) said to the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks in 1994 when we conferenced at Silver Bay, Lake George: if we don’t frequently gather at the dinner table together as a real or symbolic family (of whatever size), if we forget how to humbly talk with each other on a regular basis, if we can’t regularly witness and mourn together for the destruction and loss of what we love in the environment and in our lives, and to celebrate together also our achievements, we are truly lost and nature of which we are a part is truly lost.
Drawn by the pulse of the drumming, we left the church, walked around the Capitol, and gathered in the shade of the great trees below. We were called to be a part of that sea of humanity. Once in it, there was no escape. The only way forward was to surrender to it and to let yourself be swept downstream. No one was in control as we sweltered, waited for the dam to break, for the river to release, hung on every rumor of when it would, sang our songs, and then, finally, had to “keep up, keep up.”
Before reboarding the bus my day ended at the Lincoln Memorial. I climbed those steps to read again the Gettysburg Address with very heavy legs. Beside me was someone recalling, as she climbed those steps, what may have been her final ascent of Giant Mountain in the Adirondacks and how easy for her that climb once had been. Her stamina – at age 76 – was truly impressive.
Thanks to the Sierra Club for sponsoring so many buses from all over; thanks to my “buddies” for keeping close to me on this Climate March; and thanks for the faith community captains that led the way forward.
Photo of the People’s Climate March by David Gibson.