Rochester leaves its footprint on La Marche Globale

IMG_1409Today hundreds walked downtown in concert with the world. Including in their streets 60,000 unbowed Parisians showing solidarity and demanding action. Marking the opening of the COP21 United Nations climate talks in Paris, we were participating in the March for Global Climate Action.

From St. Lukes Church to the Liberty Pole to the Hall of Justice, downtown Rochester was filled with banners, signs, bicycles, and the Raging Grannies own renditions: Song of the Great Climate March and Where Have All the Fishes Gone?  Lots of people power (Alex White and Rajesh Barnabas from the Green Party) and no carbon footprint.

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At the event, I ran into George Payne, the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International. You met George in Nazareth’s Mini-Chautauqua and Invited to Rochester Free Radio. Deeply involved in the environmental and climate change movements, George provided an overview–and a call to action–on why this march and environmental activism in general is so important:

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George Payne

People Power is a beautiful thing. As 190 nations gather in Paris this week to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon in late November nearly 500 citizens in Rochester marched in solidarity with their local, regional, and global leaders. Rochester was not alone. An estimated 50,000 people took part in a march in London, there were enormous climate justice masses in the Philippines, major protests in the Marshall Islands, large demonstrations in Uganda, and symbolic marches across glaciers in south Chile. Over 45,000 people set a city record when they gathered in Sydney, Australia! The demand for action has been the same everywhere. We must reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We must stop digging for fossil fuels. We must replace our carbon emitting industries with new infrastructures based on renewables. This clear and profound message was heard both inside and outside the hallowed sanctuary of Rochester’s most historic religious institution. It was heard beneath the formidable sandstone turrets of City Hall, and in front of the office building where Frederick Douglas published the North Star. It was also heard loud and clear beyond the marble corridors of the Federal Building, on top of the granite steps of the Liberty Pole, and through the paneled mirrors of Bank of America. It was even heard in the long, dense, rectangular shadow of Xerox. Everywhere we walked our message was heard. It was heard all the way past Court Street to the Hall of Justice and then back to the church where it all began.

Some people wonder why we march. I marched because there is absolutely nothing that is worth more to our children then the environment. This is what bonds us to ourselves, to our loved ones, to our neighbors and fellow citizens, and even to complete strangers on the other side of the world. Without the Earth we are nothing but separated atoms lost in a deep void. In the words of Wendell Berry, “The Earth is what we all have in common.” What better reason to march than to push our leaders to take urgent and purposeful action on climate change in Paris at the COP21. Without revolutionary progress this time around, when it is all said and done there will be nothing left which holds us together. It is that serious.

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Julia Muzitani

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St. Lukes Church

Arriving early to St. Lukes on Fitzhugh Street (the march headquarters), I watched as about 15 people sat quietly at an Earth Vigil, including several from the Rochester Zen Center. Inside the church, speakers, including Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, were giving pre-march IMG_1392talks. (see also Nazareth’s Mini-Chautauqua) Jack Bradigan Spula was on “Bike Patrol” keeping an eye on the many, including mine. Julia Muzitani, President of the SUNY Geneseo Environmental Organization, was interviewed by Channel 8 News.   The march attracted concerned citizens of all ages.

(back) Liza, Benny, Liam (front) Hannah, Clinton

(back) Liza, Benny, Liam (front) Hannah, Clinton

My original mission was to find the “Greenest person in Rochester.” Of course, no one such person exists–Rochester has a large community of environmentally aware activists–but I was pointed in the direction of Susan Hughes-Smith.

Also an active member of the environmental group, Mother’s Out Front Rochester Susan is on the Leadership Team of Rochester People’s Climate Coalition organizers of the march. When able to talk with her between refilling coffee and restocking the t-shirt table (both in high demand), I learned why Susan is a fitting representative of green Rochester.

A lecturer in Environmental and Public Health at SUNY Brockport and on the adjunct faculty at RIT, Susan promotes climate awareness to audiences both mainstream and not-so-mainstream.

Living on Edgewood, a pleasant part of Brighton, Susan’s front lawn includes a giant NO FRACKING sign (that I have noticed while on my bicycle  route).

Actually, her life is not that different from most of her neighbors. Except that Susan’s home uses geothermal thermal heating and has solar panels. Her car is a hybrid.  Having a low meat/low dairy diet, Susan grows some of her own vegetables. She composts. Plans are underway for installing rain barrels that help slow the rate of water running into storm sewers.

Susan knows her lifestyle is good for the planet: one rain barrel and solar panel at a time. And she has discovered, good for her pocketbook. For Susan, being green — really a labor of love — is hardly a sacrifice.

Susan is optimistic about slowing climate change. Much of her optimism comes from her students. Many have become actively involved in the movement beyond the classroom (although, as college students will, some like the extra credit she offers).  Susan teaches that being in a community is about more than voting. It’s about acting.

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Susan Hughes-Smith and myself [Photo: George Payne]

I also ran into David Dornford, an activist on many vet dayfronts.  We met David in The Moral Equivalent of War  His story and work with the Rochester Veterans for Peace is compelling.

also see (link and pic) You may soon be living in New York State’s first “EcoDistrict”

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