A Glimpse at the Washington ‘Forward on Climate’ Rally

Thousands gathered in Washington February 17 to urge the President to move on climate change and to protest the Keystone XL pipeline.

On Sunday, February 17th, somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 people traveled to Washington from Maine to California and in-between to urge action on climate change, starting with rejection of permits for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Billed by its organizers as the “largest climate change protest in the history of the United States,” the “Forward on Climate” rally was conceived and coordinated by 350.org [see here] and Sierra Club [and here] and joined by more than 160 other environmental and civic organizations.

Bracing winds compounded the chill of the low-30s temperature for those who assembled to hear activists, celebrities, politicians, and indigenous peoples urge action on climate change. (Former Obama official Van Jones delivered a particularly stirring speech, urging young people in the crowd to “stop being chumps”: “If you don’t fight for what you want, you deserve what you get.”)

Organizers distributed signs for “Forward on Climate” and “It’s time to cut carbon.” But many brought their own signs — or wore costumes — to protest against fracking or on behalf of Arctic wildlife. (Yes, for many the polar bear remains the go-to image for climate change.)

The crowd then marched around the White House to deliver rhythmic messages of protest — e.g. “Barrack Obama, yes you can / stop the dirty pipeline plan” and “Hey Obama / we don’t want no pipeline drama” — to the president.

CNN offered the only significant pre-coverage of the event, framing it as a follow-up to the smaller protest the Wednesday before, when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his son, along with 350.org activist Bill McKibben, actress Daryl Hannah, the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune, civil rights leader Julian Bond, and some 40 others, were arrested for cuffing themselves to the White House fence.

News coverage since the Sunday rally has been quite extensive, as evidenced by this early “round up” by Inside Climate News.


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Photo 1: People quickly filled the area in front of a stage near the Washington Monument.


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Photo 2: Elliot Crown came from New York City to protest environmental impacts of fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation, which runs through Pennsylvania and New York.


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Photo 3: Three different groups of protestors gather for a joint picture by the many amateur, freelance, and professional photographers in attendance. The fool/fuel pun was a staple at the rally.


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Photo 4: The area between the jumbotron and the sidewalk ringing the Washington Monument filled mid-rally. Inside the crowd, protection from the wind helped compensate for the cloudy day and chilly temperatures.


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Photo 5: After the rally, the crowd moved from the Mall to Constitution Avenue. Several minutes passed waiting for the ‘Obama lead on Climate!’ banner to arrive.


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Photo 6: Park police — on horseback, on motorcycles, on foot, and in cars — monitored marchers closely, especially at turns in the route.


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Photo 7: A gaggle of photographers and videographers captured the crowd from the base of Rochambeau’s statue at the southwest corner of Lafayette Park.


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Photo 8: In the narrow space left by the fenced-off inaugural platforms, still being disassembled, the crowd chanted for several minutes before marching back to the Mall, where, after some dancing and photo-ops with the organizers, it dispersed.

Photo Credits:  Images 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 8 by Brian Nielson, image 4 by Steven Svoboda, each using Android-based tablets. (One problem with tablet photo-journalism in cold weather: you can only activate the touch screen with bare fingers.)

Michael Svoboda

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Writing at The George Washington University with a long interest in climate change communications. (E-mail: msvoboda@yaleclimatemediaforum.org)
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One Response to A Glimpse at the Washington ‘Forward on Climate’ Rally

  1. dennis baker says:

    In my opinion

    We need to replace the fossil fuel power plants, the primary source of GHG. Now!

    At a scale required to accomplish this task :

    Ethanol starves people : not a viable option.

    Fracking releases methane : not a viable option.

    Cellulose Bio Fuel Uses Food Land : not a viable option

    Solar uses food land : Not a viable option

    Wind is Intermittent : Not a viable option

    All Human and Agricultural Organic Waste can be converted to hydrogen, through exposure intense radiation!

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/DennisearlBaker/2012-a-breakthrough-for-r_b_1263543_135881292.html

    The Radioactive Materials exist now, and the Organic waste is renewable daily.

    Ending the practice of dumping sewage into our water sources.

    Air, Water, Food and Energy issues, receive significant positive impacts .

    Reducing illness / health care costs as well !

    Dennis Baker
    106 998 Creston Avenue
    Penticton BC V2A1P9
    cell phone 250-462-3796
    Phone / Fax 778-476-2633