The alarm clock sounded at 1:00 am Sunday morning, an hour that I am more accustomed to greeting at the other end of my day. I folded quietly out of bed, put on my macaroni-and-cheese yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” tee shirt, and gathered up my stuff. Saturday had been damp after a few days of crisp, cold autumnal weather, and the stars were twinkling in the moist night air as I drove over town to meet my carpool.
Four of us from my home congregation rode together down to Portland to catch the bus chartered by the Maine UU State Advocacy Network (MUUSAN) down to New York City for the People’s Climate March. The bus was full – I think 55 people, from all over southern and central Maine: Augusta, Ellsworth, Pittsfield, Auburn, Waterville, Portland (both Allen Avenue and First Parish); ministers serving two of our congregations and a couple of folks from Texas who had planned their vacation to coincide with the march.
I was thinking of the gathering of the waters – the ritual by which so many UU congregations mark the beginning of the church / school year in late summer – and the natural water cycle: rain that falls in drops, gathers in puddles and pools, forms streams that flow into rivers, rivers that drain into bays and estuaries where they mingle with the great salt ocean. And then, under the sun, water evaporates, forms clouds that blow inland on the wind, tear their hems on the jagged mountain ridges, and the water falls again as rain to begin the cycle anew.
And so we came, individuals making a carload, carloads filling a bus, busses heading for a city within a city, voices and banners joining with other voices and banners to sound the alarm on global environmental issues: to show, by showing up, that this is a real thing that is vitally important to all of us.
The organizers of the demonstration were expecting perhaps a hundred thousand people. The pre-march rallies would begin around 11:00 and marchers would step off at 11:30. The march itself would be structured into sections. Our group was planning to join other Unitarian Universalists in the Interfaith section of the march, whose gathering place was at 9th and 58th, about 25 blocks from where we would be let off the bus – a good half-hour’s hike.
What actually happened was that turnout on Sunday was amazingly high – when I reached the end of the march the organizers were estimating 300,000 people, which was later revised upward. Our bus – and several others that we could see – got stuck in traffic somewhere in Connecticut and did not reach the bus drop-off zone until 11:30. Believing we were late, we tumbled out of the bus and scattered like a bag of marbles hitting a dance floor.
A small group of us (including the people from my home congregation and the ministers who were on our bus) were herded with the crowd into the tail end of the march. Lots of wonderful signs. I didn’t get very many pictures; the iPad is relatively new to me and I’m still learning its limitations. We stood around for a bit, chatting with some other UU’s from Delaware (whose bus had also been stuck in traffic.) Then the two ministers from our bus really wanted to find the interfaith area, so we threaded our way out of the crowd, cut over a block, and started walking.
There are people in this world who walk faster than I do, and they were ahead of me. There are also people in this world who walk slower than I do, and they were behind me. I realized pretty quickly that we were not going to stay within sight of each other in the crowd – the block we were in turned out to be a Sunday afternoon street market, and had I not been trying to keep up the pace I might have stopped for a bit of shopping.
We caught up with each other at Columbus Circle, within a block or two of where we were trying to get to, but we had somehow ended up on the wrong side of a police barricade. (Looking at the map later, I think we went down Broadway instead of continuing on Columbus to 9th.) We were funneled back into the crowd at 60th, and then the march was moving.
We quickly got spread out again and I lost track of the folks from my home congregation (who were behind me) and the ministers from our bus (who were ahead of me.) Keeping together stopped being important, or even feasible – there were just too many people in the crowd. I tried to stay near the edge of the crowd, partly to avoid breaking up groups and partly because that’s where the media cameras were – my home folks later told me they knew where I was because they saw me on a monitor up ahead – and partly because I was still looking for the interfaith contingent, which I believed was ahead of us somewhere.
So I wasn’t with the big block of UU’s. I walked for awhile alongside the Physicians for Climate Health, and then I found some young folks with a bongo and an accordion singing folk songs, and joined them for a bit. The moment of silence at 1:00 really did happen, at least in the part of the march where I was – and then the great shout to break the silence echoed off the glass and steel canyon walls and filled (at least part of) the city. I imagine you could have heard it a mile away.
I caught up with the people I knew ahead of me after we made the turn onto 6th, and walked with them for a bit. Eventually two of them dropped out to meet a friend, and the third needed to stop and charge her phone; I was still looking for the UU block, hoping to connect with some fellow students (who may or may not have been there at all!) so I continued ahead.
I finished the march route in the organized labor section, a splotch of macaroni-cheese yellow in an ocean of green and purple and blue and red. I never did find the official interfaith group. I did find a LOT of UU’s from all over the country – as far as Wisconsin and North Carolina, as near as New Jersey and Massachusetts – who saw my yellow love shirt and said “Hey, there’s another UU! Do you know where the rest of the UU’s are?” My answer soon became, “We’re everywhere!” For we were.
Footsore and punchy but floating on the energy of the crowd, I stood and watched the marchers behind me spill off of 42nd onto 11th. They kept coming… and coming. Police and organizers urged people to disperse because the area designated for the block party would not be large enough to accommodate everyone who had shown up. Eventually I reconnected with the folks I came with, and when evening fell we tumbled into the bus for the long drive home.
I would have liked to be part of the interfaith block, gathered with the other UU’s. I know that some folks from our bus did get there – I saw the pictures later. But what did happen was also delightful and very appropriate – we are everywhere, threading our way through all kinds of things, making connections in unexpected places to work for the greater common good.
Which was, after all, the core message of the Climate March.
We are indeed all in this together.