Hundreds of AFT members were among the 310,000 trade unionists, faith, labor, social justice, youth and environmental groups to converge on New York City Sept. 21 for the People’s Climate March.
Held just before the United Nations Climate Summit and the biggest of 160 rallies held around the world, the march attracted three times the number of participants predicted. Aerial shots captured four miles of Manhattan streets and avenues packed with people, signs, two-story-high puppets and banners. The AFT members from Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and elsewhere wore blue shirts emblazoned with “Climate Justice” and held signs reading “Climate change is real. Teach Science.”
“The first step to fixing a problem is to admit you have a problem,” said Chris Shelton, vice president of the Communication Workers Association District 1, kicking off a pre-march labor rally. “We all know we have the problem of global climate change. It’s just Congress that hasn’t figured it out!”
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and an AFT vice president, told labor activists: “Capitalism cannot change the problem it has created.” PSC had nearly 500 members and CUNY students in the crowd.
“This is a monumental issue for labor,” added Frederick Kowal, president of the United University Professions at the State University of New York and an AFT vice president. His members came from all over the state, jumping on buses provided by environmental groups like the Sierra Club.
Many invoked Superstorm Sandy, describing the shock, loss and heartbreak of a natural disaster that was a climate change wakeup call. “Hurricane Sandy hurt the city’s minority and poor communities disproportionately,” said one.
AFT members from Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey brought along students. Philosophy professor Brandyn Heppard says his students have been making the connection “that climate justice is social justice is economic justice, and it all intersects with human rights. The poor are marginalized, and their voices are not heard, when people of power and privilege make decisions unilaterally.”
In addition to faculty from the Rutgers Council of AAUP Chapters, AAUP-AFT, Rutgers University was another of the more than 300 colleges and universities that sent students to the rally.