On a sweltering hot day, tens of thousands of demonstrators assembled in Washington on Saturday for the latest installment of the regular protests that punctuate the Trump era. This large-scale climate march marks President Trump’s first 100 days in office, which have been punctuated by multiple rollbacks of environmental protections and Obama climate policies.
The Peoples Climate March, which originated with a massive demonstration in New York in September 2014, picked a symbolically striking day for its 2017 event. Temperatures could exceed 90 degrees and possibly set a record for April 29 in the District, which would amplify the movement’s message.
On the eve of the march, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was beginning an overhaul of its website, which included taking down a long-standing site devoted to the science of climate change, which the agency said was “under review.”
“Hang on EPA, the midterms are coming. 2018,” read one sign carried by Kathy Sommer of Stony Brook, N.Y, as the protest assembled on the National Mall Saturday morning.
“There is no Planet B,” read another sign by Eva Gunther of Washington, D.C.
Many of the signs at Saturday’s climate march were dark and ominous, warning of climate catastrophe, dying oceans, crop destruction and planet degradation. But the mood of the marchers was anything but somber. Tens of thousands gathered all morning in the lush green National Mall in front of the US Capitol carrying signs, singing and chanting as they prepared to march to the White House. It was a racially diverse crowd with marchers of all ages.
The marchers came prepared with water bottles, hats and sun screen. They also arrived with sunny dispositions. “It’s beautiful,” said Allison Dale, a geologist from Conshohocken, Pa. “it’s so well organized and everyone is really friendly and in a really good mood.”
Impromptu concerts broke out as protesters waited for the march to begin. A brass band played as a stiltwalker danced past. Tambourine shakers and drummers added to the joyful cacophony. Their reason for marching was serious but they were determined to have a good time too.
The climate event differs from last week’s March for Science in its focus and also its participants — only 1 out of 8 contingents of Saturday’s protest featured scientific researchers. The rest included labor activists, indigenous people already facing severe effects from climate change, and children and young people who will live with the effects of climate change longest as the Earth continues to warm.
But there’s plenty of overlap between the marches. Ken Hunter, 78, traveled from Charlestown, W.Va. for this morning’s march. He also came to Washington for the March for Science last weekend and the Tax March on April 15 — and attended a Women’s March in Florida.
“Hell, I haven’t marched this much in years,” Hunter said with a laugh. “But these are all very important issues and it was important to be out here.”
The motivation for the current climate march is clear: The young Trump administration already has moved to roll back former president Barack Obama’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan, and Trump and his team have taken many other actions to weaken environmental protections of air and water, and to enable fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and waters.
The administration is grappling with a major climate policy decision: whether to remain in the Paris climate agreement. Several of Trump’s Cabinet picks are advising against following through on his campaign pledge to “cancel” the accord.
It all adds up to a big contrast with the original People’s Climate March in 2014. That event was aimed at rallying support for climate change action and preceded by about a year the Paris climate agreement. This event is much more targeted at resisting rollbacks of climate efforts.
Not that that was necessarily intentional: In a press statement, Paul Getsos, national coordinator of the People’s Climate Movement, said the event was planned “before the election.”
For Ethan Fekete, Saturday’s climate march was the first protest he has taken part in.
“Ironically we march to get rid of our carbon footprint,” said the 13 year-old Virginia Beach resident who attended the march with his dad and a friend.
“It’s so much more than just a bunch of people walking around,” Fekete said. “The signs are so creative and everyone is here for a good cause.”
Marchers on Saturday gathered at the Capitol and marched along Pennsylvania Avenue. They covered the entire width of the avenue and its length from the Capitol to 14th Street. The crowd filled Pennsylvania Avenue and the sidewalks carrying signs decrying the president and his actions on the environment.
The marchers unleashed their anger as they passed directly in front of the Trump Hotel where they booed loudly and chanted “Shame!”and “We want a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” and “we will not go away, welcome to your 100 days!”
As the march streamed towards the White House, Freedom Plaza, an open area along Pennsylvania Avenue, provided an off ramp for sweltering protesters. At the far end of the plaza a series of six large water tanks awaited. Activists lined up to refill their bottles and, in a few cases, douse their heads.
The protesters were vociferous but peaceful. Interactions with the phalanx of police officers who stood at barriers in front of the hotel were friendly with many protesters stopping to get pictures of themselves with officers.
They planned to “surround” the White House, according to the march website, and “make a loud sound demanding climate justice and good jobs that will drown out all of the climate-denying nonsense that has been coming out of this Administration.” Celebrity attendees include Leonardo DiCaprio, Al Gore and Richard Branson.
Organizers told the National Park Service that they expect 50,000 to 100,000 attendees. More than 375 satellite marches were expected around the United States and even more around the world. From Manila to Amsterdam, multiple marches have already taken place across the globe Saturday.
Getting to the march proved frustrating for many who chose to use public transportation. Metro officials did not make changes to their planned maintenance schedule, which affected several downtown stations that would normally be used by riders headed to the National Mall. In some instances, shuttle buses replaced trains. Many marchers complained the service was slow and were confused about where to board shuttle buses.
“Classic #wmata greatness while there are major events going on at once,” tweeted on disgruntled rider who included a screenshot that showed a 37-minutes wait for a Shady Grove train.
Those who used the Red Line also ran into problems Saturday morning when smoke from an arcing insulator at the Woodley Park stop forced the agency to single-track trains between that station and Van Ness, causing mid-morning delays. Those delays were in addition to previously planned single-tracking between two downtown stations, Judiciary Square and Farragut North. But officials said they planned to resume full Red Line service between Judiciary Square and Farragut North around 3 p.m. to accommodate people leaving the Climate March and those headed to the Capitals playoff game.
Even so, Metro officials said they did not anticipate significant problems.
“We believe that planned service will be more than adequate to accommodate ridership demand,” said Richard L. Jordan, a Metro spokesman.
The forecast Saturday is for temperatures to reach as high as the low 90s. The current record for the date is 91 degrees, while this month already is the warmest April on record for the District.
Joe Heim and Lori Aratani contributed to this report.
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