Pitt students march to Free the Planet


By Dale Shoemaker / Staff Writer

NEW YORK — “I don’t know but I’ve been told!” the crowd called. “We don’t need no gas and coal!”

A crowd of nearly 400,000 people, including 55 Pitt students, shouted and held signs in New York City Sunday for the People’s Climate March, the largest environmental rally in history, according to its website.

“Fund Solutions, not Pollution,” one sign read. Nick Goodfellow, one of the student leaders from Pitt and the environmental group Free the Planet, led the students toward the student assembly area by 61st Street. The Pitt students arrived in the early morning on Monday. The students paid their own way for the trip.

Assisting Goodfellow, a senior communications and urban studies major, were students Sage Lincoln, another lead organizer, and Claire Matway, a junior majoring in urban studies. 

Before the group could get close to the student assembly area, word came through the crowd that the police had blocked off 66th Street because an hour before the march, too many people had already crowded the area. Instead, they turned down 72nd Street and started walking down the sidewalk, but the sidewalk and street there were clogged with people, too.

No one could move. Then, the chanting started.

“No justice, no peace! No justice, no peace!” several people started shouting. Some Pitt students joined them, bellowing:

“What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!”

Patrick Flood, a member of 350.org, an environmental activist organization, held a sign that read, “Let’s stop climate change.”

“We have a huge problem on our hands,” Flood said. “People don’t understand what climate change is. People don’t understand the science behind it. The goal is to show America this is a huge problem. You get a couple 100,000 people in New York, people start paying attention.”

Besides signs like Flood’s that directly called for action, others raised more radical notions. “No planet, no economy,” one read “There is no planet B,” read another. 

More people packed into the sidewalk under the scaffolding, and it became difficult to move more than a few inches. 

“Pitt, move up!” Goodfellow shouted then. Several others repeated his cry, and they slowly pushed their way forward. They made it around the end of the railing and into 72nd.

Pitt’s group turned onto Central Park West more than an hour after the march began. It was also five minutes before the planned two-minute silence, between 12:58 to 1 p.m., for all of those fighting at the forefront of the climate battle line, according to the march’s website.

Bailey Rehnberg, an activist from New Jersey for the Environmental Protection Agency, passed out cards and asked for public comments for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

“The goal is to reduce emissions from the power plants by 2030,” she said. 

Behind her, a group danced, chanted and carried a banner for “Treaties protecting mother earth.” 

The people and groups represented at the march were diverse.

“I believe! I believe that we can win!” the crowd called. When that chant petered out, they started another. “The people! United! Will never be defeated! The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

“This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd shouted.

This call unified the crowd. Some people called for an end to fracking, while others, like Flood and Rehnberg, wanted to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Some relentlessly touted veganism. But they all agreed that the march represented democracy.

Then, in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower on Central Park West, amidst cries of “Trump is a front,” two women with dreadlocked hair and acoustic guitars sang a version of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

“Oh when the justice fills the air,” they sang, “Oh when the justice fills the air. Lord, I want to be in that number, when the justice fills the air.”

Like the women, the march was peaceful. There were no signs of police intervention or drug use, and several hours in, the excitement was still feverish.

“The people! United! Will never be defeated!”

A few blocks past Times Square, the march disassembled peacefully.

“It was a beautiful thing to see something so diverse,” Matway said back on the Pitt bus.

Lincoln, a junior environmental geology, urban studies and ecology major, wondered if the march would be enough to prompt legislative changes.

“Is this what it’s going to take? If this doesn’t work, something else will,” Lincoln said.

Naomi Anderson, a Pitt co-op student, also had mixed feelings. Many of the marchers hoped to influence the United Nations Climate Change Summit taking place today in New York City. 

“The [UN doesn’t] have to listen,” Anderson said. “But they should. It’s the right thing to do, to listen to what the people have to say. 

“It’s really easy to get depressed about climate change when you hear about all the statistics,” Anderson continued. “It’s almost easier to accept that we’re doomed, but coming to things like this gives you hope. Maybe we’re not doomed.”