By: Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford
In the words of Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, “The world needs a strong civil society now more than ever."
On September 21st, hundreds of Oxfam supporters heeded this call and responded, from all over the world. They came from varying walks of life but shared one common purpose: to tackle climate change.
The Oxfam contingent in the People’s Climate March included staff, interns, volunteers, CHANGE program leaders and alumni, college students, allied groups, activists, donors’ relatives, friends, and children. The group represented Oxfam well.
Evidence of support came in all forms, as long-time Oxfam America Action Corps volunteer Fatima Sambo-Schoenfelder captured in photographs.
Supporters publicly pledged their commitment to tackle climate change and its impact on hunger. Supporters gathered at 10:30AM at the line-up on Central Park West at East 72nd Street. Soon the group grew exponentially as we became crammed in our block, not able to move. Somewhat hungry, and a bit fatigued, our participants had journeyed from states such as Oklahoma, Boston, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and from other countries across the ocean. Nonetheless we stood relentlessly and steadfast from 10:30AM to 12:30PM, chanting messages like: “Climate change: Right the wrong! Right it now!" and "Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Climate change has go to go!"
Supporters received messages from Tim Gore, senior climate change policy advisor for Oxfam International, and from Isaac Evans-Frantz and myself, both Oxfam America Action Corps volunteers.
Our message was that extreme weather continues to cost lives, ruining crops and leaving millions more people at risk of hunger. Supporters were cognizant that world leaders alone have not done enough to protect our communities and our children’s future, but that if leaders left New York with the voices of the hundreds of thousands New York with the voices of the hundreds of thousands who marched there will be heard.
Supporters were asked to participate in the #FoodFight: What food would you miss most? Corn? Wheat? Peas? Fish? In the end, we shouted we would miss them all.
As we walked through the crowd to monitor our supporters, we heard screaming. It was former Vice President Al Gore. The crowd started chanting, “Thank you, Al,” in honor of his work on climate change.
After waiting for two hours, supporters raised their signs, ready to march for climate justice. At 12:58PM, everyone held the hands of the people beside them, above their heads, in recognition of those who are already feeling the burden of climate change around the world.
This was followed by loudness--an alarm to the dangers of climate change.
I was proud of the diversity in age of participants – people in their 70s walking to the end, and my son, Nicholas Horsford, age 12, who showed up at 8:30AM and held his sign until the end of the march at 4 p.m.
Even with the strongest supporters, there were challenges. Some left early because of overcrowding, others faced different challenges. However, as we continued to reach out to our marchers, the consensus was clear: Oxfam supporters are anxious to tackle climate change. Climate change is about people, and yes, it will affect us all. And it is hurting people living in poverty first and worst. Here in New York we have first-hand experience of the effects of climate change. Everyday we wake up to the lasting effects of Hurricane Sandy, one of many in a series of increasing climate disasters.
That’s why Oxfam supporters are staying strong working together to right the wrong. The People’s Climate March is on record as the biggest climate march in history, but for Oxfam, we have on record 500 people who put their name on our petition at the march, pledging to raise their voices to stop climate change from making people hungry.
Where do we go from here? Check out a round-up of policy developments and Oxfam statements from the march and related UN summit at this blog post. Keep a strong eye on the events leading up to the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change 2015 (COP21) in Paris.