The sign from Sunday's "People's Climate March" that is likely to stay with me the longest is a hand-written one saying "There is no Planet B."
We jumped into the march at 59th Street, where Central Park West flows into Columbus Circle, and is called Sixth Avenue when it emerges as a wide roadway heading south. You can see Central Park for a quite a ways when you turn around and look behind you. As you head down to Lower Manhattan the buildings get higher, with some skyscrapers owned and bearing the names of some of the people the group the save-the-planet climate marchers are part of the problem -- and not yet part of the solution.
If it started on time, the march was going for about an hour by the time we arrived -- leaving a bus that crawled down a majorly clogged Fifth Avenue -- and walked beside it on the crowded sidewalk where a fence line of metal railings separated the march from the rest of the city. We had to walk a block this way before the railings ended and we could mingle into the march.
The group we found ourselves among -- we called them "Vocal"; I never did see what the large banner-sign carried by a half dozen people actually said -- was led by folks wearing green caps with red feathers to symbolize their advocacy for the "Robin Hood Tax." As the name implies, that's a tax on the rich to help those in need. Here's the explanatory chant:
"No more budget cuts on our backs/
We'll get aid with the Robin Hood Tax."
It took me about a dozen blocks to understand the words of the group's basic marching-orders chant, repeated countless times, in the manner of day-long protest marches. The merry men wearing the green hats relied on a main man who possessed both a mike and a very quick tongue (wit, too). This leader -- "my name is Robin, and this is my 'hood -- improvised countless variations and seemingly spontaneous raps on the protest's "vocal," climate change, and "tax the corporations" theme. The basic chant, in timeless 'call and response' form, went like this:
"Who are we? Vocal./ Who are we? Vocal./ What do we want? Climate justice./ When do we want it? Now!"
This was varied, and when the marchers were in synch with the chant leaders, the one verse swung into the second, and then back to the first, again and again:
"When they get loco, We get vocal./ When they loco, we get vocal./ When they loco, we get vocal" -- with both the tempo of the response and the intensity of the 'vocal' increasing with each repeat.
When our march reached the fat shiny fortress of the Bank of America skyscraper, the need for a new chant was obvious: "Bank of America/ Bad for America!" Repeat many times.
Some of the marchers around us carried signs that identified them with phrases like "Displaced Renters." References to the suffering brought by Superstorm Sandy to New York and New Jersey shoreline communities, where two years later many housing units destroyed by the storm have still not been replaced, were part of the vibe. Others carried signs depicting the image of a hook in bright red paint to signify "Redhook," one shoreline community wiped out by the hurricane.
We also took part in a group speech delivered "Occupy Movement" style. The speaker says a phrase, maybe only two or three words, and then everybody repeats it. This brief policy statement conveyed one version of the Robin Hood Tax. If you place a small sales tax on each stock market transaction, billions in new revenues would be raised to combat rapid climate change and ameliorate its effects on the least fortunate such as those whose homes have been lost to rising seas and super storms. Why not? I thought. Almost all other sales are taxed.
The high point, by most accounts, of the march came just after the moment of silence for the victims of climate change. After that period of silence, everybody in the march was asked to make a lot of noise: drums beat, sirens rang out, and -- the biggest noise of all -- voices rose in a sustained citywide roar. A demand, I thought, for the world's powerful, both state and private entities, to take meaningful actions to reduce global warming.
Why shouldn't we take to the streets and roar? The hour is growing late to focus world leaders on the world's biggest problem. When do we want it? Now.