Perhaps it was walking onto a Greyhound bus to the offering of homemade bread (an occurrence unheard of within the realm of public transit) or the 5:30 a.m. exchange of greetings and gratitude as we gathered waiting in the rain, but my experience at the March for Real Climate Leadership instilled within me a sense of extreme optimism for the human capacity to effect positive change.
In my mind, if the people who craft hempseed oatcakes to offer strangers on a bus or stand in solidarity in demand of climate justice continue to unify (and judging by the 8,000 person turnout, they are) then I believe, as the sign reads, “in the good things coming.”
When we arrived at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland, our bus came to a stop, the sunny skies shining down on the sea of supporters gathered in the plaza. This was the country’s largest demonstration to date against fracking. Organized by a broad coalition of groups across California, including 350.org and the Sierra Club, last Saturday’s events welcomed 134 organizations, 21 buses from across the state, 137,000 petitioned signatures, and an estimated 8,000 attendees.
At a certain point during the March, I realized that the answer to several of the questions that most occupy me around environmental degradation and social justice was in fact one and the same.
Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is what I believe to be at the crux of climate justice. While a difficult topic to discern, given our dependence on oil and the arc of transformation it has enabled in human development, I find the concept of empathy to provide an enlightening framework from which to view our current situation. If Governor Jerry Brown were to empathize with the mothers and fathers whose children are diagnosed with asthma because of close proximity to fracking sites or if the leaders of the oil industry were to empathize with the communities at risk of water contamination and exposure to carcinogens, I’m confident they’d begin to grasp the ramifications of their actions, and in turn, take measures to remedy their wrongdoings.
Perhaps this is why marching is so commendable to me: it inherently engenders our ability to empathize with those different from us. By facilitating a dialogue across diverse cultures, the March for Real Climate Leadership brought the realities of fracking to the forefront. Along the shore of Lake Merritt, the pleas of indigenous communities, healthcare professionals, and activists pierced through the anticipated rains and I was struck by the truth of climate justice.
“The facts are clear,” says Linda Capato of 350.org. “Fracking worsens climate change, exacerbates a historic drought, and harms public health.” Never before had I truly understood these claims until now.
As a little girl behind me chanted about protecting dolphins and an old man playing “This Land is Your Land” on the clarinet danced to my left, I also discovered that real climate leaders come in all shapes and sizes. We come from different backgrounds, and certain things set us a part, but the one thing that will link us together for the remainder of our existence is our connection to, and reliance on, the planet.
In a world growing exponentially more complex, there is something to be cherished in these simple revelations. Often, imbedded in our reminders lay profound wisdoms – when we choose to listen.