At exactly 12:59 p.m. on Sunday, for one minute, the streets of Manhattan between Central Park West and the United Nations were silent. Softly at first, a rumble began to travel through the crowd before becoming the deafening roar of over 310,000 protestors shouting their demands for climate action.
Suddenly, Central Park West was filled with drumming, whistles and the chants of “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama!” Busloads of college students rolled in, followed by faith groups, political groups, babies and grandfathers. A small boy stood by the road blowing into a vuvuzela and wearing a sign with the words “sledding on grass isn’t fun.” Notables such as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, ex-Vice President Al Gore and actor Leonardo DeCaprio were present among the sea of protestors.
By around 11:00 a.m., Chelsea Watson, vice-president of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, estimated that over 100 Yale students had arrived at the intersection of 70th Street and Central Park West, the block designated by Climate March organizers for Yale Students to congregate for the march. Half an hour later, YSEC buses carrying an additional 150 students joined the group, as did a bus of students from the Slifka Center. Flanking the undergraduates were members of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as a group of Yale College alumni.
YSEC worked for over a month to coordinate transport of students, painting of signs and logistics for the day of the protest, said Daniel Leibovic, the president of YSEC. The section of the march designated for college students spanned over 10 city blocks.
On Tuesday the U.N. Climate Summit will be held in New York City, which is expected to draw leaders from around the world. The U.N.’s New York Headquarters were the destination of Sunday’s march. the goal of which was pushing leaders to take binding, effective actions towards ameliorating climate change.
“This is a landmark moment, and we’re actually making history right now,” said Riddhima Yadav ’18, a member of YSEC who attended the march. “We’re getting a chance to say what we want, because it’s our future, and it’s the future of our generation.”
Yadav is scheduled to speak on a Monday panel in New York called “Leader’s Forum on Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action.” The panel will be co-hosted by U.N. Women, a U.N. focus group on women’s issues, and the Mary Robinson Foundation, a center for climate change education and advocacy. She said she is the youngest panelist in a distinguished group that includes former presidents and prime ministers. Earlier this week, a declaration co-authored by Yadav and YSEC showing Yale’s support for the movement was circulated throughout the Yale community for students to sign. Yadav plans to hand it off to U.N. officials at the conference.
“[This march] is one of the best ways we can utilize our people power to show the politicians and dignitaries that they don’t have anything to fear from corporations [ignoring climate change],” said Daniel Leibovic, president of YSEC, minutes before the march began. “They have everything to gain by supporting what everyone in the world supports.”
Leibovic added that the diversity of groups at the march is the biggest testament to the country’s common interest in working to combat climate change.
“It’s just incredible to be here with so many people from all over the place who all care about this issue so much,” said Phoebe Chatfield ’18, who came to New York on Saturday to attend a student youth convergence on how to organize on-campus environmental movements.
Chatfield was one of seven freshmen who attended the conference Saturday, along with upperclassman Watson, Gabe Rissman ’17, a member of Fossil Free Yale, and Alexandra Barlowe ’17, one of the scheduled speakers.
Watson said that the conference featured lectures, workshops and speakers, with a focus on student divestment movements.
“I really feel like whenever I’m with a lot of other people who care about the climate, it always energizes me to work harder,” said Max Weinreich ’16, a member of Fossil Free Yale.
Weinreich added that past climate protests he attended made him feel much more empowered to work for positive change in the environmental movement. “There are so many people here today. We’re all saying that it’s not okay anymore, and it’s great to be a part of that,” said Nathan Lobel ’17, a member of Fossil Free Yale.
The People’s Climate March was the most well-attended climate protest in history.
Correction: Sept. 23
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of YSEC president Daniel Leibovic.