Hundreds of thousands protest against Trump and for climate, jobs and justice
WASHINGTON – Thousands of marchers descended on the nation's capital Saturday chanting, "This is what democracy looks like" in protest of the current Trump administration's policies on the environment, economy and civil rights.
"I am here fighting for environmental justice because families and communities like mine carry the burden of climate change, yet their voices are erased from the broader fight," said Johana Vicente, 24, an organizer with the Maryland League of Conservation Voters from Silver Spring and one of the speakers at the event.
"For me it is personal. It is personal because my mom was diagnosed with asthma after a few years of being in this country," she added. "I am in this fight for because I want an environment where our communities can go outside and not worry about where they will be able to breathe or not."
The People's Climate March, which attracted nearly five times as many people as the previous week's March for Science, brought together a broad coalition of activists on issues ranging from indigenous rights, political reform, corporate accountability and anti-militarism.
"Climate is one of the big issues that is going to be facing us for this whole century," said Green Party activist Tim Willard, 65, from Kensington. "It's an existential threat to our entire civilization. I think we have to come out and demonstrate our support for solutions."
Willard, running for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council in 2018, explained that local officials can play a large part in environmental policy by enacting greener building standards and implementing clean and affordable transportation alternatives.
"Looking 40 or 50 years into the future, it should be the responsibility of our government to plan for the future, and it currently is not," said Justin Schoville, 27, of Silver Spring, a Green Party organizer. "I am out here today to demonstrate that the Green Party is the party that represents this kind of systemic change that we need," he added.
Schoville, who is exploring a run for the Montgomery County Council or a state delegate seat in the Maryland General Assembly, explained that he is concerned about the future direction of U.S. energy policy.
“I want us to take this seriously – and not just Donald Trump – but I want Democrats to take this seriously as well," he said. "As the main opposition party, they have the duty and obligation to understand and put forth proposals that demonstrate the real threat to us, not 20 years from now but now," Schoville added.
Indigenous rights activists led the march along Pennsylvania Avenue towards the White House.
"I believe that Trump is in partners with TransCanada. They think it's OK for the pipelines to come through. We're just going to have to fight them off," said Lorna Hanes, 48, an environmentalist and Native American rights activist originally from Canada. “I don't want my ancestors saying, ‘Why didn't you do anything,’” she added.
Hanes, who attended the event holding a Canadian flag that featured an upside-down maple leaf, explained that much as with the protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Canadian indigenous nations have similar disputes with the government and energy producers.
"They claim they want to talk, but what is there to talk about when it's already in the ground," she said when asked about the policies of successive Canadian administrations. “They have to drink water too. It's an all nations’ issue, and it affects everyone."
Religious groups in attendance emphasized the relationship between faith and environmental stewardship.
"People of faith are called because of every faith tradition to be stewards of the Earth, and they're called to care for the least among us,” said the Rev. Leo Woodberry, pastor of Kingdom Living Temple church in Florence, South Carolina.
Woodberry explained that with the numerous issues including air pollution, water accessibility and deaths from heat-related illnesses, many communities often rely on religious institutions to collectively organize and bring attention to the issues.
"When we look at the impact, it is our moral and spiritual imperative to lead the people who hear our voice on a weekly basis," he added. "It doesn't matter if you're Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Jewish."
"As people of faith, it is our responsibility to be guardians upon this Earth," said Nana Firman, Muslim outreach director for GreenFaith, an interfaith environmental advocacy organization. "Looking at climate change, it's not just an environmental or scientific issue, but this is an ethical or moral issue," she added.
Firman, originally from Indonesia, explained that community dialogue, which is stressed in her faith, can be pursued through collective environmental advocacy.
"We worked so hard to get to the Paris Climate agreement. We cannot afford to go back," she said. "We don't want to leave our future generation a damaged Earth."
Some attendees said environmental degradation and climate change directly affect their jobs and daily lives.
"Climate has a big impact on our future as young people," said Dylan Cooper, 24, an ecological engineer from Warrenton, Virginia.
He said that rising temperatures have caused the tick population to increase in his state and spread diseases contractible by humans. He added that his wife, Sarah Cooper, 23, developed an allergy after being bitten by the insect.
As an avid fisherman, Dylan Cooper said that brook trout populations have declined from increasing temperatures and deforestation. He explained the lack of trees diminishes the natural cooling mechanism, causing the temperature of the water to rise, creating uninhabitable conditions for the fish species.
"The fly fishing industry is a multimillion-dollar industry. This is the main species in Virginia that are targeted by fly fisherman," he added, referring to the economic impact.
Scientists at the march voiced significant concern over the Trump administration’s rollback of regulations drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency.
"Climate change affects every person on the planet," said Chuck Newquist, 67, a retired engineer from Seattle. "By ignoring the climate issue, it's going to only get worse. We might be able to do something now to alleviate it. If we do nothing, we can't alleviate it," he added.
His wife, Leslie Heizer Newquist, 56, a higher-education professional, said that warming temperatures accelerate the spread of viruses, which in turn makes them more difficult to contain and manage.
"Last year, in Texas, there was no freeze in the Houston/Dallas area, so more people than ever before died of West Nile virus," she added.
Teachers stressed the importance of environmental education at an early age.
"My hope is that we can study the environment at the same level that we study math and language in school," said Ignacio Barsottelli, 48, from Los Angeles, a director at Mercy for Earth, an organization dedicated to promoting the environment and sustainability through education.
"We look at environmental education as a matter of science, but it's more than that. It's our behavior every day, and we can start teaching this in kindergarten," he added.
Some targeted pollution they attributed to the armed forces.
"The U.S. military is the single largest consumer of energy in the world and the world's single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions," George Paz Martin, a peace activist from Milwaukee said in a speech at the event.
"The U.S. military doesn't measure fuel by miles per gallon; it measures fuel by gallons or barrels per hour," he continued.
Martin said that many of the military's vehicles consume as much as six barrels of oil per hour.
"The U.S. military consumes as much as one million barrels of oil a day and contributes 5 percent of the global warming on this Earth," Martin said.
Claude Copeland, 35, from Queens, a U.S. Army veteran, who currently serves as co-chair of the Iraq Veterans Against the War, also attended the march to oppose militaristic policies.
He said that militarism affects communities both domestically and abroad.
"Both are heavily impacted by militarism, whether it's the police criminalizing Bronx youth in their own community or enforcement of curfews on Iraqis who still had no access to running water or electricity," Copeland said.
"We should work to ensure that the youth in our black and brown communities around the U.S. aren't left with the military as their only option due to the divestment of their schools and neighborhoods," he added.
During a deployment to Iraq in 2003-04, Copeland conducted security missions, and he said he witnessed the Iraqis being deprived of access to basic needs such as water and oil.
“I saw a lot of displaced youth, war orphans losing their family members due to the bombings,” Copeland said.
Some marchers were participating in a political event for the first time.
"I just felt like it's about time I become more active in the community for the things that I believe in," said Joe Dombrowski, 26, from Ocean City.
"I know that water preservation is key for the next generation, so I want to do what I can and learn what I personally can do to help out," he added.
Anti-abortion activists confronted the marchers near the White House.
Stephen Lias, 26, and Ann Marie, 41, both from Maryland, engaged in a curbside debate over abortion ethics.
"Whether or not I adopt, I still have the right to speak out against violence," said Marie.
"There are people who are poor, and they made a bad decision, or they got raped and have to have a child because you feel bad for that baby," Lias responded.
Organizers estimated a total of 200,000 attendees at the peak of the event.