Biking to the Strike: Signs of Change

I rode my bike 32 miles each way for Friday’s climate strike in downtown Manhattan. There was no way I was going to take fossil-fueled transport to get there, so that ruled out the Metro North trains, the Rockland Coaches bus, or (obviously) a gas powered car. I considered taking either the Smart EV or the Zero E-moto, but I figured I would be better off avoiding the combination of protest gridlock and Friday afternoon commuter traffic.

This was my first long ride since I rode from Grants Pass Oregon to Smith Creek, CA on my cross country trip last June. Actually, I have been avoiding long rides while my ulnar nerve recovers from that trip. I have been measuring my recovery in terms of guitar chords – I am up to a C and an F, but I have not gotten to an E-shaped bar chord yet.

I had my first flat before I got to the bottom of the hill on my street, so I went back and switched to my cross-country Trek bike. In under two hours I was crossing the GWB, fueled by anticipation for the climate protest and the crisp peri-autumnal September weather. I got downtown in plenty of time, and after some negotiations with building management, took the freight elevator and stashed my bike at the Waterkeeper offices on Maiden Lane.

A group of about six of us walked from the Waterkeeper office towards the Foley Square assembly place. We got as far as the Municipal Office Building at Chambers Street – the press of the crowds made it impossible to make the last block. The crowd was young, and excited. It helped that the New York City schools excuses students who were striking – as long as they had parental permission. We joined the march on Chambers Street when it began to move.

Many of the placards seemed formulaic – “System change not Climate Change” is getting worn to the point of being meaningless. But there were many really original signs – my favorite was a hand lettered sign with a picture of Earth, saying “I don’t want to live anywhere but here – At least until the Sun explodes.” There were two brave souls holding up “Carbon Tax Now” signs. I yelled “Neoliberal Shill at one of them, then went up to apologize and tell him I actually support a carbon tax, but he hadn’t heard me anyway.

Here are some pictures from the day.

By joining near the head of the march, I ended up fairly close to the stage at Battery Park – it would have been a great place to watch Greta speak. But I didn’t want to stand around for three hours waiting for the program, and I also wanted to bike home before dark. My Waterkeeper friends all headed back to the office. I wandered around in the crowd for a while, reading the signs and soaking up the energy. Then I recovered my bike and wheeled back to Battery Park to soak up a little more of the event, from the edge.

As I headed back up along the Hudson River park bike way, I was struck by how unaware most of he city seemed to be of the protest going on in its midst. The river’s edge was crowded with joggers and strollers on this beautiful September day, and a “Run for the Children” event was taking place completely unaware of the children’s movement organizing just a few blocks away. Friday afternoon traffic on the Henry Hudson Parkway was backed up in the usual way, and I was happy to be on a bike.

I realized as I rode that I was a little disappointed with the climate strike. A strike is supposed to be disruptive, like a labor strike that stops production, or a general strike that brings government services to a halt. It is an act of defiance, done without permission – like Greta Thunberg’s original School Strike for Climate. When a colleague suggested last week that we coordinate the Environmental Law Faculty’s participation in the strike, I joked that the problem with law professors going on strike on a Friday is that no one would notice. As it turned out, our department formally closed in support of the strike. And at some level, I was disappointed that the NYC schools gave permission to students to strike, robbing them of the element of disruptive defiance.

In a movement that counts success by the number of people engaged, I was happy to be the 249,999th demonstrator at the NYC march. But the People’s Climate March of 2014 was a bigger event in NYC, and it still did not result in a measurable political action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I want to see actual emissions reductions. Now. I know that riding a bike downtown measurably reduces my carbon footprint compared to any other form of transport.

Too many climate activists scoff at individual climate action because one individual’s reductions are vanishingly small in the context of global climate change. But my contribution to a 250,000 person march is also vanishingly small. I will continue to do both — reduce and demonstrate – and vote, and call my representatives, and walk door to door in a swing state in November 2020 (like I did in 2016) because despite the vanishingly small odds, the future of the children who demonstrated around the world on Friday demands every form of action. Individual and political.

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