Kevin Sheng (EE ’18) & Saimon Sharif (ChE ’15)
On Sunday, September 21, an estimated 310,000 demonstrators flooded into the streets of New York City in order to participate in the People’s Climate March. Coinciding with the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, the march was organized in an effort to draw attention to the looming issue of climate change. Billed as the largest climate march in history, thousands of protestors snaked their way down to midtown from Columbus Circle throughout the afternoon, joined by more than 2800 solidarity events across 166 countries.
Though the numbers were certainly impressive enough to draw significant media and political attention, they caused a problem with logistics and organization. It was felt that there was a lack of a distinct and specific message. One freshman who attended the march, Amy Chen (ME ‘18), said that “the message [was not as] clear and strong as I expected.” Another, Helena Zhu (ChE ‘18), said that “the march was more of a combination of different messages, eventually all indicating climate justice; there were themes about biodiversity, protection of the arctic, anti fossil fuel use.”
The march included a diverse range of celebrities from both the political and entertainment worlds, including former Vice President Al Gore, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, actor-activist Leonardo DiCaprio, and many others. Beyond that, however, the march was very much a march of the people. Marchers from more than 1500 organizations “demanding world leaders take action to combat climate change” joined together in an effort to demonstrate to world leaders and policymakers at Tuesday’s UN summit the sheer scale of the climate issue. Young or old, scientific or religious, people of all ages, beliefs, and ethnicities, from all walks of life, marched together, united in the desire for a greener future. “I think feeling the unity of a large group of people over a cause was really powerful” said Hadar Cohen (EE ‘15).
These marchers united with a common cause also included several members of the Cooper community. Dozens of students, graduates, and faculty could be found amongst the packed throng that filled the streets of midtown on Sunday afternoon. “It allowed me to better understand my place in the larger ecosystem and how advocating for something politically can really make a difference” said Hadar. Other students voiced similar sentiments. “I wanted to make that bit of difference in raising political awareness by being just one more voice in the march” said Howie Chen (EE ‘16), who attended the march with a group of Cooper students. “It’s way too easy to forget about how our lives impact the environment, especially living in Manhattan and being immersed in our studies at Cooper – the climate march was a good opportunity to escape that mentality and gain exposure to other issues that really matter, besides just work and study.”
Anna Kramer (CE ’14) and Hadar held a screening of the short film Disruption in the Menschel Boardroom on the Wednesday before the march, “in preparation for the People’s Climate March to engage Cooper students in the discourse of climate change” as stated by Hadar. It should be noted that Anna and Hadar organized the Cooper Union group at the march. The 52 minute documentary “lays bare the terrifying science, the shattered political process, the unrelenting industry special interests and the civic stasis that have brought us to this social, moral and ecological crossroads”, and emphasizes the necessity of public mobilization and demonstration, drawing parallels to other successful instances of mass organization such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Suffrage Movement. In terms of scale, the People’s Climate March certainly compares, drawing upwards of 300,000 demonstrators compared to the 250,000 of 1963’s legendary March on Washington. In terms of effectiveness, only time will tell.