We Marched Through NYC With 400,000 Other People -- Here's What It Was Like

Depending on who you ask, somewhere between 300 and 400,000 people descended on upper Manhattan on Sept. 21 to march in solidarity for climate change.

It was a lively gathering packed with people from all over the US and the globe, and one that outspoken activist and author Bill McKibben called “the largest political gathering about anything in America in at least a decade.”

The People’s Climate March was a gathering to raise awareness about climate change ahead of the United Nations’ Climate Summit, where Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has invited world leaders to take action on curbing global warming.

High-profile marchers included Moon, McKibben, Leonardo DiCaprio, former Vice President Al Gore, Jane Goodall, and Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY).

The protest was massive by any measure, even as it maintained the air of controlled chaos one might expect of a St. Patty’s Day parade or another NYPD-sanctioned and monitored event.

We headed down to the march to get a feel for the scene on the ground.

March attendees gathered on the Upper West Side to form up before it began. Subways headed towards Central Park West were overflowing with people.

By the time we got to the march, the crowd was in full swing. About half the attendees were grouped into a column by a police barricades, but there didn't seem to be much of a point to them. As many people were gathered outside the barricades as in them.

It took a little while for the crowd to start moving.

Some entertained themselves by playing music and dancing.

We spotted former Vice President Al Gore chatting with the crowd in the staging area around 72nd street and Central Park West.

There were more than a few young attendees at the event.

Parents helped some of them with their signs.

We first met up with Reverend Billy, who heads the Church Of Stop-Shopping, an anti-consumerism and anti-militarism activist group.

The Church of Stop-Shopping took the honeybee crisis as their cause célèbre. They shouted their message about CCD (colony collapse disorder) and its link to pesticides used on chemically treated crops.

The scene at the beginning of the march was tense, but jovial and festive. If it wasn't for the signs, you might have mistaken it for a bloc party.

There were some serious discussions happening in the crowd, like the one among this group talking about getting institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

But also colourful characters, like this one, who was representing solar power.

The crowd -- which was expectedly more sober but no less noisy than one of the city's annual parades -- was funneled down Central Park West by hundreds of NYPD officers and hired 'peacekeepers.'

There were two or three NYPD officers stationed about every 100-200 feet. Most looked uninterested and bored, though a few took part in the general atmosphere.

There was no shortage of signs, causes, or age groups. The march was composed of an extremely diverse group.

Concern over fracking was a common sentiment.

Others came just to express their solidarity.

This Dominican group was chanting 'el agua es un tesoro, que vale mas que oro' -- water is a treasure that's worth more than gold.

At times, the message seemed confused. While everyone was undoubtedly united that things were bad (and getting worse), things got more muddled when it came down to who was to blame and how to fix it. We caught this marcher in favour of nuclear energy hanging near a massive banner calling for the end of nuclear power.

Lots of groups carried signs that let them write in their own reason for marching.

At 1pm, everyone raised their hands and went dead silent. Hearing the teeming crowd -- that had just seconds before been bustling with movement, music, and chants -- go silent was eerie.

Sound started to rise from the back of the march, and came rushing forward like a wave.

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After the moment of silence was over, the crowd erupted.

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Everyone threw their hands into the air as they sounded the 'climate alarm.'

And others waved their signs.

Sometimes it was hard to tell who was there to promote their own event and who was there solely for the March. Signs for Flood Wall Street (happening Sept. 22) were everywhere.

In between leading chants and shouts for the march ('We need a revolution!' 'The people united will never be defeated'), this leader from Revolution Newspaper kept touting an upcoming event with Princeton scholar Cornel West and political activist Bob Avakian.

These guys were riling up the crowd, posing as oil executives in an 'SUV' and telling the marchers that the science is far from decided on climate change.

Lots of people carried signs that said exactly what they thought about that sentiment.

Everyone had their own political cause to support. Here we saw a group calling attention to the plight of Palestinians.

Anti-factory farming signs were popular.

The march took a long time to get going, mainly because the NYPD slowed down the march at Columbus Circle and began only letting small groups through at a time. We caught police officer photographing a group of young marchers.

Meditators lined Central Park beside the march.

No one escaped criticism from the marchers. Warren Buffet was taken to task for his murky views on climate change, despite his strong bets on renewable energy. As these marchers turned the corner onto 6th Ave, they were greeted by protesters with megaphones shouting, 'Animal agriculture is the number one cause of climate change.'

The march was in full swing by the time it hit Radio City Music Hall.

Crowds built up along the streets, splitting into waves whenever police stopped groups to let traffic through.

Some of the first to reach Times Square were young marchers.

Some other people managed to catch a ride.

There were lots of college groups from all over the country.

We ran into more honeybee supporters along the way.

Along with people concerned about other animals.

All kinds of interesting creatures made appearances at the march, like this dragon made from recycled materials...

...And this cow, which was used to protest the methane produced by the cattle industry.

Lots of faith groups were present -- some even brought an ark.

Others had simpler approaches.

Tourists took pictures and clapped from the sides as some of the groups made their way down 42nd, close to the end of the march.

The contrast between all the Times Square advertising and the generally anti-consumerism protest was interesting to see.

A lot of people in the crowd were involved with efforts beyond the march too. The guy smiling in the foreground here works with an ecology magazine.

Some groups managed to carry big banners the whole way -- a feat, for sure.

Even as they marched through the finish, people were still going strong.

People chanted and and held up their signs all the way to the end.

But there was definitely a sense of relief as people began to mill about at the end.

The march wound itself down to 34th St., where marchers were greeted with booths, displays, and sidewalk chalk messages.

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