Sept. 21, 2014

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UUP calls for end to climate change in massive march

uupdate 9-21-14

The People’s Climate March was a march for the ages, and UUP was a part of it.

Dressed in blue T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Climate Justice,” more than 40 UUP members joined hundreds of thousands of their labor sisters and brothers, environmental activists, students, actors, musicians, and other demonstrators calling for an end to climate change in the Sept. 21 march.

More than 310,000 people marched in the Manhattan protest; organizers, who expected about 100,000 participants, called the event the largest climate march in history. It dovetailed with climate change marches worldwide.

The march went off just days before a Sept. 23 U.N. summit in New York City on climate change.

“It’s imperative that we’re here,” said UUP President Fred Kowal. “I think what we’re trying to do is to bring some healing about for the planet and for our students because they’re going to inherit this world.”

A huge undertaking

More than 1,500 groups filled Central Park West before the march. Thousands more than expected lined up to take part, pushing the parade line back to 93rd Street. As of 1:45 p.m., the back of the march still hadn’t moved.

The procession started at 11:30 a.m. at Columbus Circle and stretched more than four miles at times. Marchers carried banners with slogans like “Climate change is a health care crisis,” “There is no Planet B,” and “United for climate action.” Stony Brook Chapter member Mary Lee, above, carried an AFT sign that read "Climate Change is Real: Teach Science."

One man dressed as a penguin carried a sign that said “Beware the penguins.” Another marcher wore a stuffed polar bear on his head with a sign that said “Save Me,” while a third wore a suit jacket, shirt and tie with swimming trunks and goggles and carried a sign that said “Got carbon credits?”

People watching the parade cheered as marchers walked past. Media lined the streets, beckoning marchers over for interviews. Kowal, who was a guest on New York City public radio station WBAI-FM before the march, pulled off the parade route for an interview with The Weather Channel.

Marchers became quiet to observe a moment of silence at 1 p.m. Seconds later, a wave of cheers in the distance quickly turned into swells of sound that washed over marchers on Avenue of the Americas at 56th Street. Suddenly, the crowd joined in, adding their own whoops and screams to the cacophony.

UUP members, who joined the parade shortly after it began, walked side by side with unionists from across the Northeast and Canada. Dozens of unions took part, including AFT, NYSUT, CSEA, PEF, the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY, the Teamsters, United Auto Workers, and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Vice President for Professionals Philippe Abraham and Treasurer Rowena-Blackman Stroud, above, and Membership Development Officer Edison Bond Jr. took part in the march, as did NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner.

“I’m really tired of the 99 percent getting smashed by the 1 percent, I’m tired of global greed and profit ruining the world, and ruining our futures, our children’s futures, and our students’ futures,” said Old Westbury Chapter member Martha Livingston. “We need to take this planet back and I’m here to try and turn it around.”

“This is something I’ve believed in for a long time,” said Stony Brook Chapter member Nancy Gaugler. “We’ve got to raise our voices about this.”

Labor shouts for end to climate change

Kowal and leaders from unions across the country recalled the havoc of Hurricane Sandy and hollered for an end to climate change at a huge labor rally before the parade. Thousands of unionists cheered, chanted and crammed into the street at 58th Street and Broadway, which had been closed by police before the rally.

Kowal, who shared the stage with PEF President Susan Kent and PSC/CUNY President Barbara Bowen, read a poem by Native American activist Leonard Peltier.

“Let us start this very day, this very hour, the great healing to come,” Kowal read.

“Capitalism cannot solve the climate problem it has created,” said Bowen, who read a passage from the book “This Changes Everything” by Naomi Klein. “It’s time for labor to be a movement again.”

After the rally, union members lined up and joined the parade, which had curled around Columbus Circle. The parade headed east on 59th Street before turning onto 6th Avenue to 42nd Street and routed straight through Times Square. The march ended at 11th Avenue between 34th and 38th streets.

“This march is just a classic opportunity to take us forward to a better future,” Kowal said.

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