Water and Oil Must Mix: A Freshwater Dispatch from the People's Climate March

Version française.

400,000 people spanned nearly 50 blocks of Manhattan – more than 6.5 km of marchers! It took nearly five hours to end. It was the largest march for climate action in history.

I was stunned. I was electrified. I was re-inspired.

At one point during the march, I checked in with a good friend of mine who was behind me in the march to see where exactly she was and if there was hope we might march for a bit together. “I’m at 72nd Ave and Central Park West” was her answer. That was 32 blocks behind where I stood then, near Times Square. “I can’t see the end behind us,” she continued. And I couldn’t see the front.

Anyone who has been to a march with me knows that I like to march jump. I’m so curious to see the signs, messages, the music and energy of different parts of the march. So, I spend a bit of time in an area and then I walk faster than the crowd to catch the next wave ahead in a bid to make it to the front of the march. I covered some good ground on Sunday’s march but I never did make it to the front – which is too bad as the image of front-line and impacted communities leading with 100s of 1000s backing them up would have been one I’d have loved to witness.

The connecting issues united climate activists from around the world. Those displaced from climate-changing events and weather patterns were in NYC; those on the front lines of climate intensive energy projects were in NYC; those marching for public health were in NYC; those concerned for the impact of climate change on our global food systems were in NYC; people wanting increased attention on good green jobs were in NYC. But there was a noticeable absence for me in the crowds of 100s of 1000s that were marching in the streets of Manhattan.

The most prominent display of water at the march was the free water fillup stations throughout and at the end of the event. Now yes, there was the odd sign that mentioned clean water, the fracking groups who we know are concerned about the industry’s impacts on aquifers and freshwater systems were there in full force, so too were other directly affected communities who are on the front lines of water contamination by industries that spew much more than climate-changing gases.

But what I did not see was a large delegation bringing issues of water and climate change to prominent attention – the student/youth delegation itself went on for more than 10 city blocks!

So full disclosure. In a march as large as this, I did not see everything or everyone. It is possible that there was a large water contingent that I missed. Though I did span about ¾ of the march in my attempt to find them.

I know that the majority of us care about the impacts of climate change and know what these impacts are having and will have on water availability and quality. But it seems noticeably absent from our work, from our conversations and definitely was not a dominant theme on the streets of Manhattan this past weekend.

For the next climate march…let us make sure that we are there… for if we do not take action to mitigate the climate-changing effects on our water, the work each and everyone of us does to protect it will simply not succeed. In fact, let us not wait for the next climate march. Let us start today to make sure our work is connecting the dots between the very real impacts that climate change is having TODAY on Canada’s freshwater systems and why taking action is no longer a choice, it’s a necessity.

Lindsay Telfer is co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance.