Polar Bear Behind Bars: Representing the North Coast at the People’s Climate March
In late September, I was lucky enough to be able to travel from the North Coast to New York City to attend the People's Climate March. The goal was to make a strong showing before world leaders who were gathered in the city to discuss global warming action at the United Nations climate summit.
Protesters from across the country gathered to press President Barack Obama and other leaders for specific, binding commitments to make the ambitious cuts to carbon pollution we need to preserve a livable planet.
I had high hopes that the People’s Climate March would be as exciting and as successful as the 1999 Battle in Seattle had been. And though the events were quite different, I was not disappointed.
Different affinity groups of marchers began gathering in midtown Manhattan early Sunday morning. By late morning, more than 40 city blocks were completely filled with marchers. We later found out that there had been almost 400,000 of us in the march.
I've never seen so many people in one place, let alone at a protest march. The biggest protest event I had been to previously was the WTO meeting and historic protest in Seattle in 1999 (where incidentally North Coast residents played a lead role in successfully blockading several key streets leading to the convention center).
Our affinity group, riders on the People's Climate Train organized by the Center for Biological Diversity—the group I work for—and Center staff and members met up in Sheep Meadow in Central Park.
It was a beautiful Sunday, the weather was perfect, and determination and joy for protecting our precious planet filled the air. We marched through almost the entire Manhattan Island, and it took several hours for all the marchers to finish the route.
There were incredible floats, gigantic carbon bubbles, and beautiful and crazy costumes. I was not planning to wear the Frostpaw polar bear costume that became famous at the March, but our awesome and brave volunteer polar bear began sweating so profusely that he eventually asked if someone else could wear the costume. No other takers in our group could be readily found, so I agreed to the assignment, put on the Frostpaw outfit and marched the last half of the march in the costume.
It was sweltering hot, and the temperature inside the costume was unbearable (pun intended). But people sure do love seeing and hugging our polar bear, and the joy of that contact and feedback kept me going despite the heat and profuse sweat that had me lose several pounds in one day!
The diversity of participants in the march was truly inspiring. The main organizers of the event did an amazing job on outreach and logistics. Kudos especially to the great people at 350.org who put so much energy into organizing the march.
The next day was the more confrontational "Flood Wall Street" event. The idea of this event was to bring attention to the role of big banks, major energy companies and hedge funds in our climate change/climate chaos crisis.
Since most of NYC will be flooded if climate change and sea-level rise get worse and it was near the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, a flood-themed protest seemed like the perfect way to help people understand the connection between Wall Street greed and climate chaos.
There were about 3,000 marchers. We met at Battery Park in early morning, with a great view of the Statue of Liberty. There were speeches by writers and activists, including a great talk by author Naomi Klein. At the end of the speeches, friends helped me change into our incredibly lifelike Frostpaw polar bear costume, and we marched toward the New York Stock Exchange building.
When we left the park a massive police presence blocked us from reaching the New York Stock Exchange building entrance, which we had intended to attempt to blockade. We made it as far as the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, and all 3,000 protesters and probably as many police massed at that intersection.
The protesters sat down in the street. We chanted, sang songs and got to know our fellow protesters for the next several hours. At nightfall, the police ordered us to disperse. By then there we down to about 600 or 700 hundred people, and 102 of us refused to disperse and were arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
I was arrested in the polar bear costume. Images of the arrest were instantly broadcast worldwide, but we didn't know the extent of it until after we got out of jail. We were all brought to jail and kept there for about 8 hours and eventually released.
When I was released one of the police officers (all of whom were very polite to us) said "Dude, you’re all over Twitter and the Internet." And sure enough, he was right: The image had gone viral and was seen by tens of millions of people.
I believe our protest helped deliver a key message: If President Obama and other world leaders don’t act soon to make ambitious cuts to the carbon pollution that’s warming our planet, we’ll see more devastating heat waves, rising seas, and killer storms.
Whether the actions will help change the world or not, I know for sure these actions changed my life for the better.
I met so many wonderful people at the climate march, the Flood Wall Street action and in jail. It was an amazing event and one of the highlights of my life to be able to attend and to try to help represent my community.