Front-Lines Communities Rising Up: Dispatches from People's Climate
Front-Lines Communities Rising Up: Dispatches from People's Climate
By Nadia Prupis and Sarah Lazare / commondreams.org

As heads of state, corporate leaders, and token civil society organizations meet behind the UN Climate Summit's closed doors Tuesday, the streets continue to resound with the messages of the 400,000 people who marched on Sunday, the thousands who flooded Wall Street, the ongoing People's Climate Justice Summit, and the workshops, teach-ins, and rallies still filling New York.

That massive crowd is not only challenging those within the summit. Many participants and organizers are pushing discussions within the environmental movement about social and economic justice and the critical role that front-lines communities—those directly bearing the brunt of climate change—play in leading the struggle to transform society and defend the earth. And on Sunday, it was these front-lines communities who led the march, with youth at the front.

Climate activists from the Shorefront communities march. (Photo: Our Power Campaign)Climate activists from the Shorefront communities march. (Photo: Our Power Campaign)

"The front-lines of the climate crisis are low-income people, communities of color and indigenous communities here in the US and around the globe," said Cindy Wiesner, Co-Director of the Climate Justice Alliance. "We are the hardest hit by both climate disruption—the storms, floods and droughts—as well as by the extractive, polluting and wasteful industries causing global warming. We are also at the forefront of innovative community-led solutions that ensure a just transition off fossil fuels, and that support an economy good for both people and the planet. That is why Climate Justice Alliance members are here in the thousands, to march and say to global leaders: we have the solutions to ecological and economic crises."

The Climate Justice Alliance Marches September 21, 2014. (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)The Climate Justice Alliance Marches September 21, 2014. (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)

Indigenous Voices

"Brothers and sisters, we’re calling out to the world to join together for true change. Let’s leave the oil beneath the ground. The Sarayaku indigenous people believe that instead of bringing ‘development’, the oil industry is destructive for indigenous society, non-indigenous society, the planet, and nature. It disrupts our indigenous worldview and destroys our ecosystems. That’s why we vociferously fight so that oil is not extracted from our territories." –Patricia Gualinga, international relations director for Kichwa indigenous community of Sarayaku, Ecuadorian Amazon

The Indigenous Environmental Network at People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Photo: Our Power Campaign)The Indigenous Environmental Network at People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Photo: Our Power Campaign)

“You’re not guaranteed, ever, that you’re going to win in this movement by sticking your neck out and making your voice heard. But you’re definitely guaranteed, a hundred percent, to completely fail if you don’t at least try.” –Kandi Mosset, Native Energy & Climate Campaign Organizer 

“No money in the world is worth destroying our land and our water…. I pray that more of us can have the courage to stand up and speak out.” –Shelley A. Young, Mi'kmaq leader from Eskasoni First Nation

Mari Rose Taruc, with Asian/Pacific Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance, speaks at a rally before the Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Mari Rose Taruc, with Asian/Pacific Environmental Network and the Climate Justice Alliance, speaks at a rally before the Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Workers Rising, From Appalachia to Immokalee

"I’m a 69 year-old retired coal miner from Lynch in southeast Kentucky. I worked underground for 41 years and I have black lung disease. I’m actually having a hard time breathing just to get to this stage. I am marching today because I want to build a bright future for my family, for Appalachia, and for this world. I have a vision where my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren can have good jobs that support our families without doing damage to our water, air, land and climate." –Stanley Sturgill, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

Kimberly Shepherd of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Michael Leon Guerrero of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance getting ready to march September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Kimberly Shepherd of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Michael Leon Guerrero of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance getting ready to march September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"We are suffering and dying from all this. We deserve water, clean air, stable work." —Kimberly Shepherd, of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

Activists use signs and puppets to protest big gas and oil companies at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Activists use signs and puppets to protest big gas and oil companies at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Our members are marching because climate change affects all of us. We live in the communities that get destroyed by storms like Sandy. We work in the buildings that get flooded. We get hit by health epidemics like asthma that are rampant in our communities, and we care about the world that we will leave for our children and grandchildren." – Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU

"As farmworkers, we are deeply affected by climate change and environmental degradation.  First, it affects our work—extreme temperatures and other impacts of climate change have a direct impact on farmworkers. Second, and most importantly, we are all connected. We all must fight for a better future, and in order for us to leave a better world for our children, we must have clean air, clean water, and sustainable energy. It is time the major corporations contributing to climate change take responsibility for their actions and to start protecting the environment. The planet is the most important gift that we have." –Lupe Gonzalo, Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Chants of "We are domestic workers! We want climate justice now!" could be heard ringing through the crowd.

Migrant Justice

“We are here representing the communities who are suffering directly from an exploitative, extractive economy that doesn’t respect people’s dignity, or human, labour, and civil rights. We are here to lift this voice and to send the message that we have the opportunity to create an economy that values humanity and dignity. We are here to redefine a just transition, where all communities have equality, access to resources, and also an economy that is good for the people and the planet.” –Abel Luna, Migrant Justice, Flood Wall Street

Peace and Justice Connection

"It's not sustainable to go to war, to be at war, to put people through war. There is so much damage done to the physical environment, to people. War is wasting resources. It is the opposite of sustainability. As a veteran, a better fight out there is to fight for climate action. You just have to spend a year in a war zone and see the devastation that is done." –Matt Stys, Iraq Veterans Against the War

"I thought I went into Iraq to win hearts and minds and ended up pointing my weapons at civilians. That is not the kind of medic I thought I would be." –Jennifer Pacanowski, Iraq Veterans Against the War

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Civilian-Soldier Alliance, and allies march September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Civilian-Soldier Alliance, and allies march at the People's Climate March in New York City on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"I think now is a time to highlight Palestinians as frontlines communities. Climate change will devastate land that is cordoned off, where people have no ability to escape." –Noor Mir, anti-war organizer from D.C.

Global and Coastal Justice

"BAYAN joined the International League of Peoples Struggle in the Peoples Climate March Sunday to amplify the voices from the Global South—the poor countries, the countries plundered dry of our natural wealth by big multinational corporations and imperialist countries—who pay the highest price for a crisis we are not responsible for. We are here not only to demand justice and reparations, but to let the world know that every day the world's poor are fighting and resisting imperialist plunder, and the fight for climate justice is a matter of life and death." —Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson of BAYAN-USA

Resist Imperialism. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
Resist Imperialism. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"The time has come to question and reject the model of development that destroys us, that does not take into account or protect natural resources, clean water, air or food. The planet is collapsing and the time has come to act." –Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of the National Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras

"The People’s Climate March and Summit are about our human rights and how we want to live free from the control that the oil, gas, and coal industries currently have over our laws and economy. This is a critical time as our coastal cities in the South are projected to be under water if we don’t take control." –Monique Harden, co-director of Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in New Orleans

"New Orleans: The Seas Are Rising And So Are We" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
"New Orleans: The Seas Are Rising And So Are We" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"These criminal acts started a long time ago, from slavery to colonialism to structural adjustment programs to neoliberal policies. Corporations took power.  Now it is time to take back our power." –Godwin Uyi Ojo of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria

"The economy is crashing and the climate is crashing. This stems from the same issue of putting profit over people and the planet. We need to support people and the planet. We need a just transition that does not leave people behind. We need to heal the planet." –Michael Leon Guerrero, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Global communities unite at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Global communities unite at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Voices from NYC

"Climate change affects everyone, but will not impact everyone equally. The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance is proud to join the hundreds of organizations in the historic People’s Climate March to advance climate justice. Its not every day you can help ‎secure humanity’s future just by showing up—but this is one of those days." –Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance

(Photo: Our Power Campaign)(Photo: Our Power Campaign)

"To Change Everything, It Takes Everyone." (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"To Change Everything, It Takes Everyone." (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Earth Now. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Earth Now. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Protesters raise their hands during a rally before Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014.(Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)Protesters raise their hands during a rally before Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014.(Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)

The Indigenous Environmental Network at People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Photo: Our Power Campaign)
Our Power Campaign at People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)

"The Lorax Says Fuck Monsanto" (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)"The Lorax Says Fuck Monsanto" (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)

Activists join the protest at Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)Activists join the protest at Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)

Activists carried banners during the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)Activists carried banners during the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Photo: Meaghan LaSala/Creative Commons)

"Seize the Future: Make Capitalism History" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Seize the Future: Make Capitalism History" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Bee the Solution" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Bee the Solution" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"No Tar Sands in Casco Bay" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"No Tar Sands in Casco Bay" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"The Climate Is Not A Brand" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"The Climate Is Not A Brand" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"The Debate Is Over" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"The Debate Is Over" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Rising Tide Seattle activist Madrone leads the crowd in a chant during Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Rising Tide Seattle activist Madrone leads the crowd in a chant during Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Frack is Whack" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Frack is Whack" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Flood Wall Street protest on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Flood Wall Street protest on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Oxfam joins the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Oxfam joins the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Crowds gather at Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Crowds gather at Flood Wall Street on September 22, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

(Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)(Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)

Musicians play at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Musicians play at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Activists raise their hands for a moment of silence, followed by waves of raucous cheers, during the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Activists raise their hands for a moment of silence, followed by waves of raucous cheers, during the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Stop Tar Sands At The Source" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Stop Tar Sands At The Source" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Pay It Forward" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Pay It Forward" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Money Shouldn't Speak Louder Than The People" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Money Shouldn't Speak Louder Than The People" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Corporate Capitalism = Climate Chaos" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Corporate Capitalism = Climate Chaos" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"War Is Not Green" (Photo: Common Dreams/Creative Commons)"War Is Not Green" (Photo: Common Dreams/Creative Commons)

"Why Not?" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"Why Not?" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"If It's Melted, It's Ruined" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)"If It's Melted, It's Ruined" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"We are the roots that weather the storm." (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)
"We are the roots that weather the storm." (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)

Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
Image from the People's Climate March September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

Veterans for Peace march at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)
Veterans for Peace march at the People's Climate March on September 21, 2014. (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Resist" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

"Resist" (Common Dreams: CC BY-SA 3.0 US)

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Front-Lines Communities Rising Up: Dispatches from People's Climate