1199ers Take Part in History’s Largest Climate March

September 23, 2014

It was the largest climate march in the history of our planet. And 1199SEIU both helped to organize the Sept. 21 New York City march and participated in large numbers.

Organizers of the People’s Climate March put the number of participants in the event at 400,000. Never had so many people taken part in an event to sound the warning about the dangers of global warming and climate change.

The rally was timed to coincide with a Sept. 23 United Nations meeting of 120 world leaders who will discuss how best to address the alarming rise of greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientist says that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity. They warn also that we are nearing the tipping point. Unless emissions are drastically reduced, it would mean the end of life on earth as we know it.

But for many, that time is now. “The ocean broke and water started coming through the windows,” said Myrtle Wiliams, an LPN at Peninsula NH, in Far Rockaway. She was referring to Oct. 29, 2012, when Hurricane Sandy struck New York and other sections of the East Coast. “

“We saw the water rising and the next thing we saw was that all the lights went out Williams said. “The water kept rising. It was very scary. It became more real to me how important it is for us to recognize what is happening with our climate and how it’s effecting us,” For Williams and others, global warming was no longer an abstraction. It had hit home.

Williams spoke about her work at the short labor rally that preceded the People’s March. She was introduced by 1199SEIU Pres. George Gresham, who praised the 1199ers who were on the frontlines of the relief efforts after Sandy.

“Let history record,” Gresham declared, “labor cares about our planet. He added, “Being here reminds me of when I was a kid in school and we discussed whether the earth was round or flat. The dispute is over. Climate change is real.”

It is real for Celerina Sarmiento, an RN at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway. Sarmiento, a native of the Philippines, was joined at the march by other Filipina RNs, some of whom have relatives who were affected by Typhoon Haiyan, which took the lives of some 10,000 Filipinos in November last year.

“My nephew’s wife lost eight members of her family,” Sarmiento said. She added that she was at the march to send a message to our leaders that they must take action soon to end the climate calamity.

Laphaine Tracy, another Episcopal RN and a marcher in the 1199SEIU contingent, remained at the hospital for five-and-a-half days after Sandy because other workers weren’t able to make it to work.

Laura Goodwin, an NYU Hospital clerk, worked two full days when the neighborhood flooded and the lights went out after Sandy. “I’m here at the march for my children and grandchildren,” she said Carlotta Bishop, a home health aid at All Metro Home Care in New York, came to the march with her daughter and three grandchildren. “I’m here because my native country, Guyana, is especially affected by erosion because it’s a low lying nation,” Bishop said.

She carried an 1199SEIU placard that read, “Climate Change Is a Healthcare Crisis.” Another 1199 sign said: “We Demand Clean Air! Clean Water! Clean Energy!” And another: “Green Jobs = A Healthy Planet. Empleados Verdes = Un Planeta Sano.” “Climate Change Is a Health Crisis,” said another.

“For Our Patients, Public Health and the Planet,” read the 1199SEIU banners that were carried by members and their children.

Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, joined Gresham and Union Secretary Treasurer Maria Castaneda, one of the labor leaders who spearheaded relief efforts for Haiyan victims, at the front of the 1199SEIU contingent.

The contingent was joined by drummers from Harlem’s Harambee Dance Company, whose playing added to the occasion that was alternately festive and solemn.

At the very head of the march were the Climate Justice organizations, indigenous people and representatives of communities that have been the most acutely affected by the climate crisis. One of their banners read, “Frontlines of Crisis. Forefront of Change.” Another asked, “What’s the Solution?” And answered, “A Green Revolution.”The action was endorsed by more than 1,500 organizations, which connected protection of the climate with a broad range of social and economic justice issues. The faith-based community attracted adherents of virtually all beliefs. “The Earth is Our Sacred Scripture,” read one of their banners.

The tens of thousands of students at the march highlighted the nationwide divestment campaign that’s sweeping campuses across the nation. Some already have been successful in forcing their schools to pull funds from any company in the fossil fuel industry.

Not only did the march attract participants from around the nation, marchers from around the globe also attended. Similar but smaller marches also were held in many nations. Union marchers from abroad highlighted their campaigns for climate/green jobs. Unions in South Africa and the United Kingdom have launched campaigns for one million climate jobs.

Speakers at the labor rally before the march drove that issue home. They noted that the dichotomy between the climate and jobs is a false one. In fact, the solution to the crisis must include clean energy jobs and the retrofitting of pubic and private buildings.

Leaders in New York took notice. Mayor Bill deBlasio joined the march and announced a day before the march to decrease the city’s greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 80 percent by 2050. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon marched, as did the New York City Council under its own banner. The march also included many children, including 1199SEIU children. Four came with Angel De LaRosa, a food service worker from Georgetown University Hospital, who arrived on one of the three 1199SEIU Md-DC buses. Asked why he was there, he pointed to the children and said, “I want clean, water and air for them.”