Billed as the world’s biggest demonstration against global warming, the march stretched for more than 30 blocks, a solid mile and a half of nuns in vestments, old-school hippies wearing tie-dyed T-shirts, families with anti-fracking banners taped to strollers, marching bands, bird puppets, unions, mosque groups, school groups, socialists, Democrats, and Republicans.
Marching alongside them was a pack of politicians and celebrities, including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, former Vice President Al Gore, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Peter Gabriel, Emma Thompson, Sting, and Mark Ruffalo.
So how did the People's March organizers come up with the 310,000 figure?
"Relying on a crowd density analysis formula developed by a professor of game theory and complex systems at Carnegie Mellon University, the official attendee count calculates the average density of the march crowd over specific intervals, factoring in the surface area covered by the crowd and the speed and duration of the march," the organizers said in a statement.
“Speaking from 45 years of experience of organizing these marches, I’d say at least 350-400,000 people turned out today,” Leslie Cagan, the event’s national march coordinator, said in a statement.
The New York march was one of many held around the world this weekend in advance of Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit.
Although backed by global activist organizations Avaaz and 350.org, the New York march was organized using a decentralized Occupy model, which focused on getting more than 1,400 groups to organize their own communities with their own climate-related concerns and demands.
“Climate change is a health crisis,” said Catherine Thomasson, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a principal organizer of the health care hub of the event.
Thomasson was one of dozens of doctors marching in lab coats to call attention to the ways in which she said “extreme weather events disrupt electrical systems, ruin hospitals,” and destroy the infrastructure on which effective health care depends.
Half a block away, a large contingent of Jewish organizations marched under banners in both English and Hebrew.
“The Jewish tradition teaches us about being stewards of the earth,” said Liz Traison, 24, who carried a small sign that simply said “Jewish.”
“This whole march is about caring for our future,” she said.
The “big tent” approach was a political strategy designed to emphasize the breadth of communities concerned about the climate change. Overall, the attitude at the march was one of acceptance and celebration of the variety of voices at the table. It also caused a few fractious moments along the way, with some individuals on the sidelines heckling other groups for not being sufficiently concerned with certain issues, such as veganism or nuclear pollution.
Those worried about the march’s lack of concrete, specific demands have organized other events throughout the week, all with an eye to influencing Tuesday’s Climate Summit.
On Monday, activists with Flood Wall Streetwill “block Wall Street’s major thoroughfares” to “make the connections between corporate capitalism, extractive industries, and climate change,” said Sandra Nurse, one of a brigade of folks carrying a giant “Flood Wall Street” banner down Central Park West as the march convened.
Many marchers told powerful stories about how environmental devastation had changed their lives and their countries.
“Many of our members are children of peasant families,” said Linda Oalican, coordinator of Damayan Migrant Workers Association, which mobilizes low-wage Filipino workers to fight for labor, health, gender, and immigration rights.
“When their farms have a hard harvest, a way to survive is to send a mother or daughter abroad,” said Oalican, noting that overseas workers supplied the single biggest source of revenue for the Philippines last year, sending $25 billion home.
Marching with the women of Damayan was the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, a New York City–based “radical marching band” whose members danced green, sparkly circles around the Damayan banner in a perfect visualization of the march’s collaborative ethos.