Vicki Michela said it was unseasonably cold as she and her family waited for a midnight bus from Albany to Washington on Saturday night.
The irony was not lost on her or the roughly 150 other locals on the cold night journey to the nation’s capital for what organizers billed as the largest-ever rally to stop climate change.
“I’ve always cared about the environment,” she said, “but this was the first time I got on a bus at midnight to do something about it.”
For Michela, Sunday’s Forward On Climate rally was something different — it had a very specific purpose. She explained that President Barack Obama is currently in a position to stop more than 1,000 miles of Keystone XL oil pipeline from being laid from Canada through several U.S. states.
Environmentalists believe the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil, would encourage detrimental energy practices, speeding climate change. Pipeline advocates say it would help the U.S. on its quest for energy independence.
“If he sees enough people mobilizing against it,” she said, “he might reject it.”
Over her cellphone on the bus ride home she seemed optimistic, and for good reason. Besides her husband, Michael Gorla, and two teenage daughters, early tallies suggest 35,000-45,000 people gathered around the Washington Monument Sunday in opposition to the pipeline, not counting solidarity protests in Los Angeles and places in Texas.
She described the gathering as a rather happy event with scores of punchy signs with slogans like “There is no planet B” and guys dressed up as polar bears, the Statue of Liberty and the Lorax.
“There are always characters at things like this,” she said, pointing out the vast number of students her daughters’ age was speckled with a respectable crowd of fully grown adults like herself with jobs and responsibilities.
The rally kicked off at noon. Former Adirondack resident, environmentalist author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben spoke along with a few other noteworthies of the movement. It was pretty cold to be standing still, so the crowd hefted their signs and marched around a bit.
“The cold was not a worthy adversary to our cause,” said Daniel Plaat, of Albany, who also was on the bus home.
He said he’s not usually an extreme sort of guy, but wanted to lend another voice to “pressure our president.” The Keystone pipeline was the central issue of the rally, but Plaat said it was essentially a foundation to talk about climate change itself. Rejecting the pipeline, he argued, would force the country to rely on greener energies, which would make for a better planet.
After a solid eight hours of rallying in the bone-chilling cold, he was more cautiously optimistic than Michela. When asked if the rally had helped slow climate change, he said, “It all depends on Obama’s reaction.”
With the rally over and a purported success, scores of buses drove through the night, returning sleepy environmentalists to more than 30 far-off states.
McKibben was not available for an interview but said via Twitter: “Today was one of the best days of my life — because I saw the movement come together finally, big and diverse and gorgeous.”