Polar Bears International staff members Alysa McCall, left, and Marissa Krouse, right, at the Peoples Climate March in DC.

© Barbara Revard/Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

6/20/2017 7:15:45 AM

People's Climate March - I Showed Up

By Valerie Beck

In April, I marched in the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C.

It was nearly fifty years ago that I started marching. I marched on my Ann Arbor college campus. I marched in local towns and cities. And in November 1969 I folded myself into the back seat of a Chevy Corvair (which, if you know the car, didn’t really have a back seat), inadequately dressed for the cold, and rode twelve hours to D.C. where I joined over 500,000 less-than-organized people in the massive Moratorium March on Washington. We chanted slogans and sang with Pete Seeger. We marched for peace and we railed against war.

What I learned from watching civil rights demonstrations on TV and my own experience was that single-minded, righteous activism works. Showing up makes a difference. It takes time, it takes persistence, but it moves us forward.

Polar Bears International staff with signs at the Peoples Climate March.

Speaking up helps move us forward. Photo copyright BJ Kirschhoffer/Polar Bears International.

Today, showing up takes many forms. Technology alone can usurp the need to congregate en mass to make a point. The internet and social media connect us all.

But still we march. Because so very much is at stake. Over five million world-wide participants joined the Women’s March in January 2017—with 500,00 in D.C. alone. Massive crowds attended the March for Science in the capital and in over 600 satellite cities. And the People’s Climate March (PCM), only one week later, drew 200,000 people to Washington and linked over 370 cities.

However we do it—actually or virtually—showing up matters. As a Polar Bears International board member and champion of polar bear conservation, I couldn’t resist the call to show up for the PCM in Washington. I joined steadfast PBI staff, members of our Arctic Ambassador Center network, and graduates of our Climate Alliance training—and hundreds of thousands of others—in voicing our belief in the overwhelming scientific evidence that we are in a race against time and temperature to maintain life as we know it on our planet. And we demonstrated our resolve to work for policies and programs that address the problem.

Polar Bears International staff & volunteers with signs and banners at the Peoples Climate March.

We march because showing up makes a difference--and so much is at stake. Photo copyright BJ Kirschhoffer/Polar Bears International.

The weekend was serious fun! After months of expert planning on the part of the PBI staff and volunteers, we began our activities the day before the march with a presentation by Stephanie Doyle of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL). Its mission is to create the political will for climate solutions. PBI’s staff members and our Climate Alliance colleagues—mostly educators from zoos and other conservation organizations—learned about CCL’s work as well as techniques for talking about climate change issues with various audiences. Everyone there was oh, so smart!

That afternoon, I went with PBI’s executive director, Krista Wright, Geoff York, senior director of conservation, and BJ Kirschhoffer, director of field operations, to a meeting with the assistant of Montana representative, Steve Daines. Krista presented our case for continued U.S. leadership in the Paris Climate Accord as well as concerns about the effects of climate change on Montana in particular. After our meeting, we freely walked the corridors of the building and poked our heads into various offices, including those of Al Franken, Elizabeth Warren, and Diane Feinstein.

By early evening we were enjoying ourselves at the PBI Poster-Making and Pizza Party. We designed eye-catching placards with clever captions. No march is complete these days without inspiring slogans, emotional statements, and hilarious comments. Social media thrives on them!

Polar Bears International staff & volunteers with signs and posters.

Fired up and ready to go after the PBI Poster-Making and Pizza Party! Photo copyright BJ Kirschhoffer/Polar Bears International.

Finally, on Saturday morning we assembled in our assigned section on the march route. It was SO hot! Ironically and appropriately, Washington reached a near record high of over 90 degrees for an April 29th. At 1:00, we and throngs of people outfitted in costumes, signage, and the summery-est of clothing, moved down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House and the Washington Monument. The crowd was animated, peaceful, SO hot, and determined. The proximity to the halls of power, to monuments honoring illustrious past presidents and statesmen, to a three-story edifice with the words of our constitution’s first amendment inspired the crowd—and me—to be proud and hopeful that progress will prevail.

We now know the decision on the Paris Climate Accord. But, eventually, history shows us that progress that benefits the greater good does prevail. It will take time, it will take persistence, but we will move forward.

We show up. And we march.

Valerie Beck serves on PBI's board of directors. 

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