First 40 Days

[By Anita Payne]

August 14– I wrote the following blog a couple of weeks after returning home from the first part of the march. I did not submit it then because I felt it was perhaps a little too negative. I didn’t write about the emotional difficulty of leaving the march, probably because it was still affecting me. I will do that now, at the end of what I wrote before.


May 1 – Taking a Break from the March – Reflections on the First 40 Days

My last day with the Great March for Climate Action was April 9. I had planned to do the first and last parts of the March, covering 1000 miles in total. I left the March in Phoenix and plan to return when the march is in Illinois or Indiana in late summer. The main reason I left is my inability to handle hot, sunny weather. I had already been having some difficulty with that so I usually walked in the mornings and drove the break truck during the latter part of the daily march.

Does anything ever turn out like you expected? I didn’t have any specific expectations, except that I thought the GMCA would have been more organized. I thought staff would make decisions for us, but in many cases the marching community as a whole made decisions, such as the start time for marching. This was a very important decision because on hot and sunny days we needed to cover as much ground as possible early in the day. We often had trouble meeting our projected start time, but handling logistics at evening meetings and having a wake-up call two hours before our start time helped. That meant a 5:00 am wake up call for a 7:00 am start, which became the standard while marching through the desert. Everyone was expected to pitch in to get the camp packed up. Starting together helped keep the marchers closer together rather than strung out for miles. We all agreed that being in a larger group attracts more attention, making our individual efforts more worthwhile.

The Climate Marchers are men and women of all ages from all parts of the US and me from Canada. Some parents with children and students plan to join the march during the summer. Marchers are also expected to come from several other countries, most notably Bangladesh, which is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Surprisingly to me, men outnumber women on the march. I guess that is probably due to the gruelling conditions of long marches and camping. There is a wonderful balance of personalities and abilities amongst the marchers. Age does not really seem to be a factor in determining how we get along with each other. We are all adults and for the most part treat each other with respect and mutual admiration. After all we have come together for a higher purpose. The younger folks are worried about their own futures, while many of the older marchers are grandparents and are concerned about their grandchildren. It is simply not fair to leave them a world that cannot sustain life. And the urgency for action is pressed upon us as we have seen severe climate change effects close to home over the past couple of years, such as Hurricane Sandy, drought and wildfires. Climate change is happening now and affecting all of us.

Every day I view photos from the march with envy as the marchers make their way through scenic areas of the southwest. Well maybe not the day of a sandstorm followed by a blizzard. That day reminds me of the daily physical struggle the marchers make, not just to march but also to prepare meals, wash dishes and themselves, set up camp and pack it up again. All of this if usually done outdoors in whatever weather conditions is prevailing. Just trying to get enough rest is a struggle too. I am rested now but still walking often to keep fit to re-join the march. I expect the march to be running like a well oiled machine by the time I get back to it. The march is like a microcosm of humanity. If we can’t get it together to get ourselves across America, how can we expect all the nations on Earth to work together to solve the climate crisis?

Did it make a difference that I participated in the march?

According to the other marchers, it did make a difference. It was worth it for me to do what I did, marching, painting, driving, discussing, taking photos, sending emails and Facebook messages and tweeting. Meeting people in the communities we marched through and seeing the landscapes and cityscapes close up was really interesting and enlightening. Most of all I made many new friends and it seemed like I was leaving my new family when I left the Great March for Climate Action.

I don’t mean for this to discourage anyone from joining the GMCA. It is an amazing experience that I highly recommend. I look forward to rejoining the march as soon as I can.
August 14– Over the 6 weeks that I had been on the march, our relatively small group became very close to each other. It was disappointing that the march was much smaller than anticipated. The first day was terrific! The rally in the park next to the large oil refinery at Wilmington in the Port of Los Angeles was attended by hundreds, many of them young people. Students had made signs and even a life sized polar bear cub. After the speeches most rally participants joined us for the first two and a half miles. Then many of them went to a climate fair. Some of the students and others continued with us for the day. Two students pulled the bear the whole 17.5 miles to our evening gathering, even through the torrential rain we experienced that afternoon. We crossed through ankle deep water at times. Who would have thought that we would have that experience to start the Climate March when California was (and still is) experiencing a severe drought? We took it as a positive sign that we had brought rain to LA. Unfortunately all the natural streams and riverbeds have been hardened with concrete. This makes all the rainwater run right into the ocean, taking all kinds of litter with it. A terrible waste! Over the first week we had quite a few marchers, but we numbered a few dozen rather the hundreds that organizers had envisioned. After a week of marching across the urban wilderness of LA, we headed across farmland and then through the Mojave Desert. It took a couple of weeks to get organized to the point where we could efficiently set up camp, prepare our meals and break camp again to begin marching again. Marching may have been the easier part at that point, except of course for the blisters and aches and pains most of us were experiencing. Marching together gave us a chance to get to know each other. Time and miles go by much more quickly when you are engaged in conversation.

Women’s meetings were held every week or two. We had fun and shared the difficulties as well as the joyful experiences in our lives. The last such meeting I experienced was in a grassy courtyard at the University of Phoenix. Three of us were leaving the march. One at a time, each of the three of us lay down on the grass and all the other women sat around us, touching us. As I lay there with each woman taking a turn to say something to me, I was overcome with emotion. It felt like I was leaving my new family. But, I knew I would be returning. Now, it is just a few weeks before I return. I will take a train to Chicago to meet the marchers there in early September. I am looking forward to seeing my friends and meeting the people who have joined the march over the summer. A lot of people have joined for a few days while the march was close to their home. There have been fewer new marchers going the whole distance. Now the Great March for Climate Action is being billed as the longest climate march. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to participate in the worlds’ largest climate march, the People’s Climate March and Rally in New York City on September 21. As well as a huge turnout in NYC, rallies are planned in many cities around the world. This massive call for climate action is focused on world leaders who will meet at the UN Climate Summit starting September 23.

The GMCA marchers will charter a bus to participate in this march and then return to our route to complete the cross country march to Washington, DC. Once there we will have our final rally and will lobby Congressional Representatives as well. Citizen’s Climate Lobby has been working to have a bill for a carbon fee and dividend introduced in the lame duck session of Congress after the November 15 elections, before the new congress convenes in early 2015. It is the best chance for quick action on climate change. With the US leading, Canada will be obligated to follow. If Stephen Harper does not take action, his successor in 2015 will.