Of the many wonderful, incredible and memorable signs from the Washington, DC Women’s March, that I read, saw, laughed at and cried with, a small minimally decorated sign, “Stay Woke,” sticks in my mind. We must stay “woke,” we must stay alert, and we must stand on guard – to me, this is the clearest and most important thing we can all do, immediately. Our sense of “normalcy” has been assaulted throughout this past presidential election, and we can’t fall into complacency. But we shouldn’t pretend that we haven’t been living this daily assault for many years. The TV shows we watch, the ads we read, the video games that we, and our children play’ all to a certain extent normalize violence, racism and bigotry; as well as what we accept as news and facts – this as opposed to what is actually created as entertainment or PR. Our scale of “normal” has been stretching and broadening, which isn’t necessarily bad or wrong. But, when our democracy is threatened, when free speech, free press and our basic freedoms – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – are attacked in subtle and not so subtle ways, too many lines are being crossed and we must be hyper vigilant, now more than ever.
We watched on January 20th, as our country held a peaceful transition of power and Donald Trump transcended to the Presidency of the United States. But complacency must stopped as the reality of a government that operates on “alternative facts” and whose first pushes for power are on advancing fossil fuels and taking away regulations that keep our water and air safe. As we face this new future and now together, we must remind our elected officials we are watching them closely – they, if not the president, do still work for and represent us.
For those of us who marched in Washington DC on January 21st, or in over 600 other cities, small and large, around our country and around the world, memories of that day will stay with us forever. “We the People” were all witnesses and participants to a truly historic moment in time; a day when people “woke up,” when we each shared our concerns and our hopes – in our own, unique and powerful ways – and put the world and the new President of the United States on notice. One of the chants that I heard over and over again: “We will not go away, welcome to your FIRST day.” A movement is coalescing, it will be messy, and it will move in fits and starts, but it is here to stay.
My March weekend began early Saturday just after midnight, when I settled in to sleep on a pull out couch, made up for me with love and care by a cousin in Bethesda. In a stop and go drive from New Jersey to Maryland, we arrived much later then we had expected, around 11:30pm. Our family was still wide-awake and greeted us with excited hugs and kisses. They were busy preparing sandwiches for the March and happily showed us the metro tickets they had thoughtful bought in anticipation of a busy transportation morning. As well they were mapping out and discussing various possible meeting spots where we hoped to find one another on Saturday. I left the house Saturday morning with 4 family members who were joining me to meet up with our “Climate Justice contingent;” hundreds of people from around the country who had registered to march with us under the Climate Justice umbrella.Trying to find the hundreds who had signed up to march with us proved much more difficult then we had thought. Our meeting spot was in front of hotel a few blocks away from the main stage for the March. We found ourselves with thousands of folks meeting their families, their groups and their friends at the same spot. In a sea of pink hats, winter coats and handmade signs, finding “our people” wasn’t easy, but then it became incredibly clear – in fact “our people” were right in front of us, we just need to open our eyes a little wider. “Our” people came in all different shapes, sizes, religions, colors and ethnicities. We were all joined in unity – at that moment – to tell the world: “Here we are, we are watching what is happening with our eyes wide open, with our big extended FAMILY, and we are NOT going away.”
I did get to greet a few of the people I had planned to see including: my daughter’s elementary school principal who now lives in South Carolina and who came to march with her daughter who lives in DC; dear friends and colleagues from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network who travelled from California; colleagues from the Climate Reality Project from New York and Washington; and a broad eclectic mix of friends and colleagues who live all across the country. I knew as well that many friends were in proximity to me and the hotel – I had texts and calls from them – but we missed finding one another in the ever-growing crowds. And, as predicted, very soon that morning cell service became unavailable, texts went through only once in a while, and access to social media and the Internet became intermittent at best. So, while some of us from our Climate Justice contingent tried to stay together it became clear that staying together in such a large group would be impossible.
So, in the end I marched with three generations of my family, as if it was destined from the start: my mother-in-law from New Jersey, an energetic, outspoken public health educator; my sister-in-law, a psychiatrist from Rhode Island; my sister-in-law, a public prosecutor from Arizona; my niece from Arizona who is in middle school, and my 17 year old daughter, a high school senior. We too lost and then found one another in the huge crowds, and then, serendipitously hours later we all found one another again, a sign to me that we were truly meant to share this historic event together, as a family. We saw many families – with multiple generations, walking together. As time passes, and we digest what we took part in, and as January 21st finds it’s place in history, I know that this will have been a defining moment of our lives. Everyone who took part, everyone who watched – we are all one family – the human race.
At the March, I looked to the left, to the right, behind me and in front of me, and I saw determination to make change in most of the faces around me. When I got home, I looked in the mirror, and said to myself – out loud – look no further – it’s you. While we all have different abilities and degrees of opportunity and power with which to make a difference, we all can and must do what we can. To me, the Women’s March shone a spotlight on these realities, we can’t rely on someone else to fix what we think needs fixing. WE must not only be on guard but we must all be working to fix what we see is broken.
We also can’t minimize the urgency with which we must act – on all these issues. Band-aids are not permanent solutions, and many of our band-aids are old and falling off. For me, with climate action – I am going to loudly remind my friends, family, colleagues and elected officials that we need real change, NOW. We must stop pretending that changing light bulbs and recycling will save the future for our children. At best these are false hopes, and at worst becoming complacent with these actions in the absence of others, will fuel the fires to come. The science on climate change is clear, as is our role in accelerating it. While it seems that more and more politicians are finally in agreement that climate change is here, our incoming administration is raising doubts about our role in causing our climate to change; clearly trying to dampen the urgency with which we need now, to put policies and programs in place. And sadly, in the first week of the Trump presidency, the urgency of the climate crisis before us has literally been “wiped off” the face of the White House website.
I get asked all the time, what are the three things I can do that will make a difference on climate change, and I see this type of questioning already arising out of the Women’s March. Life is messy and the world is a messed up place, there are no easy answers and no “top 3” which will correct all the inequities and fix the unfolding crisis and existential threats we face. What I saw and felt at the Women’s March was recognition of this, and a rise of determination, fueled by passions. I feel strongly that if we all harness our determination for positive change, and act on those things we are passionate about – we can make the world a sustainable place for us and our families. Our journey is long, it will take the rest of our lives. But to me, what was clear is that so many of us are in this together. It won’t take everybody, and we don’t have to convince everyone. We just needed to get started and we have, on step forward at a time, no looking back.
So if anyone asks me what’s next? I will tell them it’s messy, complicated and will not be easy. My friend and colleague Canadian artist Franke James likes to say: “Do the hardest thing first.” I know we are fighting for our lives and a livable future for our children. As Martin Luther King so eloquently stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but bends towards justice.” We stand together for climate justice – for human rights, for love and equality – and against hate. We stand for full respect for science and immediate action on solutions to the global crisis of climate change.
Yours in truth and power,