planePeople ask me where I’m going to be on Sunday. Not if I’m going to be at the People’s Climate March, but which People’s Climate March. Plans to drop banners throughout the Bay Area and rally at Lake Merritt are well underway by the Sunflower Alliance and others and it’s going to be a great day. I might have joined any of the other events planned down the Peninsula, closer to my home in Pacifica. It’s conceivable that I’d join my friends and family in my hometown of Vancouver to link arms at the CBC plaza. But, no, when people ask me, I say, “I’m going to be in New York”.

Living on the west coast, I’d been saying this somewhat sheepishly since seeing off the Climate Train in Emeryville, CA earlier this week, after reading my co-worker’s blog about life on the Train and the deep thinking the 200+ riders are doing while chugging across the nation, and while thinking about all the time people are spending today ‘carpooling’ on  the hundreds of buses to Manhattan. Why? Oh, because I’m flying. And whenever activists fighting climate change take this fossil fuel intensive mode of transport to arrive in a place to fight climate change, we get called out as hypocrites, we get flak and discredited – all attempts to cut our credibility. Heck, I’ve been guilty of lobbing these criticisms myself.

But yesterday as I diligently got my things together, it hit me – I’m going to be in New York for the largest climate rally ever. And why I’m there is far more important than how I’m getting there.PCMlargestmarch

I’m going to be on the streets with at least one hundred thousand people gathering for a single reason – demand action on climate change to save humanity and the planet. No one at the March will be there for any other reason. We demand this action of ourselves, of countries, of governments and of the United Nations; we believe this action must happen at a local level, at a national level, at a global level, even at a glo-cal level; and we believe this action will happen through technology, innovation, law and going back to the land. We celebrate this diversity.

To make this need for action the reality, we realize that it’s going to take all of us. On Sunday, we will show that we are huge in number. As we snake through the streets, pause for a moment of silence to remember those who have fallen victim to the impacts of climate change, and make our way to a giant People’s Climate Block Party to meet, connect and learn from and make art with each other, we will be having an impact as the experience will have an impact on us, and we’ll take this back to our homes, and do the work we need to do.

I’m committed to learning from people’s movements around the world. Celebrating victories and sharing struggle and suffering. I’m committed to sharing news of Global Exchange’s work to stop fracking in Mendocino County through the ballot box this November, of our campaign for Fair Trade to ensure workers are paid a living wage and the environment is protected and of our actions to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership which, if passed, would grant corporations more power and rollback our efforts for just transition.

banner2And thanks to you, I’m marching with the voices of Global Exchange supporters – we asked you to answer ‘We’re talking action because it’s up to us … ‘ and as they flooded in, we added them to a banner which Shannon and I will carry on Sunday. Here are just a few:

…to have breathable air and drinkable water. Mira S., El Sobrante, CA
…to stop climate change and end fracking. Robert E., Andersonville, TN
…to preserve life on earth for our children. Jamie F., Sugarland, TX
…because each day we delay makes it hotter and harder. Sally P., Salt Lake City, UT
…because Mother Nature is so alive! She is so strong and that’s no jive. Meaghan S., Fortuna, CA

So as I’m zooming through the air on a Boeing 737 towards New York, I look out the window at the bountiful land below, I look up to the delicate atmosphere above and I look around at everyone in the cabin with me and I’m already motivated by what I see.

How ever we are getting to the People’s Climate March, many are saying they have the same feeling they did in November 1999, when heading to Seattle to shut down the WTO, or in February 2003 heading out their front doors to show opposition to the war in Iraq – a feeling of excitement, power and determination. I know when we stand, shoulder to shoulder, in the streets and around the world we can change the course of history.

trainThe familiar yet snarky refrain plays in my head: “It seems that all you climate activists are always flying in planes all over the world to save the environment.” The irony of relying on speedy and convenient fossil-fuel intensive transportation in the urgent pursuit of saner environmental policies is not lost on anyone who has ever hopped from one international meeting to the next.

But as I thought about my own reasons for attending the People’s Climate March, coinciding with the gathering of world leaders at the UN to address climate chaos, boarding the so-called Climate Train seemed like the only way to go; maybe even the best reason to go to New York.

Shannon Biggs boards the Climate Train in Emeryville, CA.

Shannon Biggs boards the Climate Train in Emeryville, CA.

As a believer in the idea that communities hold the key to creating change, I’m not headed to New York to speak truth to power before the United Nations or our politicians — though for many that is why they are going. I come to hold space for people fighting for change in the places where they live—communities asserting their rights to ban the incinerator by the school grounds, or the industrial hog farm where community farming once stood, a fracking site that threatens their water and air; First Nations people blockading the machines of destruction. If our politicians are ever going to act, it’s going to be because people took action first to protect local ecosystems and the people that they love.

So, with some encouragement, I took the train to slow down a little and share the stories and learnings of people all along the way. It’s been a journey already. When we boarded in the Bay Area, we were 120 climate riders strong, as we chug through the endless fields of (largely) GMO corn on our way to Chicago, we’ve picked up another 60 riders.

The Climate Train was greeted by rallies across the country (this one in Reno, NV).

The Climate Train was greeted by rallies across the country (this one in Reno, NV).

At most stops there is a rally, where local people come out to cheer us on, thank us for taking the journey and asking us to carry their messages with us to New York. They tell us they are so grateful for we riders, and we tell them we’re grateful for them, staying at home where ground zero for the climate fight is and doing what they do—stand their ground and create the change at home.

I will be teaching 2 workshops on the train, on Community Rights and Rights of Nature, to share the lessons of hundreds of communities who have chosen to pass binding laws that place the rights of people and ecosystems over corporate interests. People are excited to learn about this framework, and all of the other work and perspectives being exchanged over the days. Other workshops range from examining race and classism in the climate movement, to building the climate movement within movements of faith, and dozens more. Riders come from all backgrounds, ages, and starting points—everyone on the Train has something to share, and something to take away.

In Denver a dozen new riders, including Susan Reiderer, a mother and grandmother who is relatively new to working on climate issues, joined us. She joined Citizens Climate Lobby two years ago to “stand up to power and do whatever it takes.” She added that although she loves the work she’s doing through CCL, she thinks doing whatever it takes probably “means that we have to do civil disobedience.” She’s ready.

Conversations on the Climate Train.

Conversations on the Climate Train.

Back on board the Train, at any time of day people can be found in sleeping bags napping, creating music in small groups, some are creatively cooking together with crock pots and rice cookers or bustling through the pricier dining cars, attending one of the nearly non-stop workshops, or getting to know each other in the observation deck where the alternating beauty and ravages surround us with breathtaking clarity. This is the way to see the country, and to get inspired for the change that is possible.

Shannon and Pennie's first night on the Climate Train.

Shannon and Pennie’s first night on the Climate Train.

Early on in the journey I was sitting in our tiny shared “sleeper-ette” room with my friend and ally Pennie Opal Plant as we looked at the beautiful Sierras through a brown haze of smoke—one of many forest fires in our drought-ridden state this year. Lamenting the magnitude of change needed can get even the most buoyant activist down at times. There, in the middle of nowhere (if nowhere is a majestic forest grove along the train tracks with no nearby roads) was a small group of people beside the tracks, excitedly holding signs for us as we chugged past. We waved to them and they to us, and something quite beautiful transferred between us all.

I looked over to Pennie, who was similarly overcome with emotion. “It was the simple act of someone holding a sign,” she said. “I felt the magnitude of humanity responding to Mother’s Earth’s call to rise up as her immune response in defense of future generations of life as we know it within our biosphere. I was overwhelmed with joy.”

If the train has reinforced anything for me it is that we were not in this alone, we are here for each other. Once the crowds and chaos of the march in the streets of New York have died down, and we all return home to continue the work, it may be that the experience on the Climate Train has given us the best new ideas to work with and new allies to keep us going.


It’s time we all got on board with a people-powered climate plan.

The People’s Climate Train is pulling out on September 15 from the San Francisco Bay Area and will arrive in New York City on September 18, 2014 to join the People’s Climate March September 20 & 21. Over 200 people have already registered  to take the cross country journey, with new riders joining at stops all along the way.

The final destination on this journey is to join the largest-ever climate march in New York City on September 21 & 22, coinciding with the United Nations Climate Summit taking place there, which will serve as a public platform for world leaders, big business and some participation from civil society. The stated goal of the summit is “to catalyze ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for an ambitious global agreement by 2015 that limits the world to a less than 2-degree Celsius rise in global temperature.”

Kylie Nealis of the Sierra Club and Suzanne York of the Institute for Population Studies will be in New York.

Kylie Nealis of the Sierra Club and Suzanne York of the Institute for Population Studies will be in New York.

For many, faith in the UN as a global forum for solving the climate crisis has all but been shattered.  Critiques range from calling out the UN as a flaccid institution to the more cynical view that it has been co-opted, branded and sponsored by corporations.  Yet there are other reasons to show up in New York while leaders gather.

As David Turnbull, Campaigns Director for Oil Change International says, “World leaders have come together too many times with nothing more than strong rhetoric and empty promises in tow. Science is simply screaming at us that we must not delay action any longer, so the time is now to show our strength as a movement. I can’t wait to join the hundreds of thousands of real leaders marching on the streets of New York demanding action and to show our elected representatives that their empty promises will no longer be accepted.”

Others are going to highlight particular issues. An entire contingent of affected residents, activists and concerned Americans are going to connect the dots between fracking, other fossil fuel exploitation, and climate disruption.’s Fracking Campaigner Linda Capato says, “I’m going to PCM because we need to make it clear to decision makers that if we are serious about climate it needs to be a future without fracking.”
PCMlargestmarchGlobal Exchange will be in New York not to beg officials to act, but to stand for communities  are already on the leading edge of climate solutions, from banning fracking in their communities, to boldly placing the rights of residents and ecosystems above the array of harmful corporate projects that collectively emit the bulk of carbon stored in the atmosphere.  The march is going to be big—really big, and there is value in connecting with people from all across the country in this way, sharing stories, networking and finding ways to come together to reinvent our future without dependence on fossil fuels.

Those of us working on the rights-of-nature framework are seeking to reconnect humanity with the rest of species. We seek to change human law that can only “see” nature as a thing — separate and apart from us, property to be owned and destroyed at will. We seek to change the law because our own salvation can only come from a cultural mindset enforced by an earth jurisprudence that we are a part of nature. In New York we will join allies including Osprey Orielle Lake,  Executive Director of WECAN in presenting these ideas at a special panel: Rights of Nature and Systemic Change in Climate Solutions, on September 23.   This event is free and open to the public however, due to its proximity to the global leaders, collected security in this part of the city is tight so registration is required. Once you register (which takes less than 30 seconds), you will receive an invitation that you will need to have in hand along with ID to attend the event. As Osprey says, “Nature will not wait while politicians debate. It is time for ambitious action that addresses the roots of the climate crisis and fosters justice for the Earth and future generations.”

all_aboardFor the variety of reasons people are coming to join the march, the reasons people are getting there via the climate trains (and buses) are the same — to connect with each other and build the nationwide movement for change in the only way that matters —by building people-to-people ties. I will be riding with people like Pennie Opal Plant from Idle No More Bay Area who says, ” I’m excited to meet activists working to ensure life as we know it continues on the belly of Mother Earth.”  Sierra Club’s Kylie Nealis will be leading another train from DC to New York and says, “I’m joining the climate train because I believe its important to not just voice what we’re against but to also collectively advocate for solutions to climate change like clean energy and nature’s rights. The train will be a space for people to come together and connect around those solutions!”

I will be joining the train in the Bay Area, and meeting 170 fellow riders, sharing stories and strategies for change. I will be leading workshops on community rights, rights of nature and fracking, and learning from others as we come together from across the country to share knowledge and collaborate while enjoying a beautiful ride through breathtaking wilderness areas.

The first train is sold out—but don’t worry, they have already started another one to meet the demand—so there is still time to climb aboard. Visit People’s Climate Train to SIGN UP NOW! For anyone who still needs lodging in the Big Apple secure them now if you haven’t already and there is a free option!  The PCM Faith Team has generously offered to match you up with available space in churches or homes. Contact  Jennifer Kim at the Center for Biological Diversity.