The following blog is written by Toni Zimmer, President, League of Women Voters of New Jersey.
You Make Friends…
From the moment I stepped onto the bus chartered by the Sierra Club, I knew this was going to be an extraordinary day. How could it not? Our bus captain was Susan Williams, President of the Highlands Chapter of the Sierra Club. Susan is a dynamic woman who never seems to run out of energy. She’s also a very dedicated advocate for just about every environmental cause you can imagine. We smiled as she checked my name off on the roster, and I found an empty seat next to Michele Guttenberger. Like me, Michele is a member of the LWV of Sussex Highlands. She is also the president of AAUW-Sussex. We really never had the chance to chat in earnest. In fact, we hardly knew each other. Little did I know that Michele and I would end up spending the entire day and a good part of the evening practically joined at the hip. Literally! I’ll explain later.
It took us about one hour to reach the Lincoln Tunnel and make our way through the darkness and into the brilliant sunlight of the city. There was another Sierra Club chartered bus leaving from Morris County, and my friend, LWVNJ VP of Advocacy, Nancy Hedinger was on it. I gave her a call. “Are you there yet?” I asked, “Yes. We’re here,” she said. “I’m on West 84th between Central Park West & Amsterdam Avenue.” Good thing I had worked in the city for many years before moving to New Jersey, so I knew just where to find her once we arrived. “Okay,” I told her, “We’ll see you soon!” The bus meandered its way through heavy traffic as we headed uptown. People on the bus were beginning to speak just a little bit louder, their voices a tiny bit higher. We were getting excited. I turned to Michele and said, “I feel like a kid – ‘Are we there yet?’” We laughed.
You Ride the Subway…
We finally arrived at our destination, and Susan was busy giving us last minute instructions on where the buses would be parked once the March was over. “Please make sure you get back to 23rd St. and 11th Avenue by 4 p.m. everyone. Okay?” We all replied in unison. “Okay,” and then we shrieked and gave Susan and our bus driver a loud round of applause. Now, I was anxious to meet up with some of the League members I knew were going to be there. We met Nancy a short while later, and she left us to meet her daughter who would also be joining in on the March. We said goodbye, and that was the last time we saw each other. Sigh.
It seemed sensible to take the subway to travel from 86th Street downtown to 66th Street, one of the main staging areas for the March. It was almost 10:30 a.m. and the March was scheduled to start at 11. Michele and I bought a metro card and took the subway downtown to 72nd Street. It was humid outside, but the subway car was air conditioned and we were loving it. “Nice,” said Michele, “I would never have imagined.” When we stepped off of the subway and made our way to the street, we were in awe of the magnitude of people, some already lined up within the wide margin solely cordoned off for those who were ready to march. Others crammed together on the sidewalk and strained against each other in the side streets, angling for position to make headway toward the coveted center margin area where they would eventually be part of the march. “Wow,” was all I could say. I looked around at the endless sea of faces, listened to the constant tune of chatter and chanting, and I knew. We wouldn’t be marching together with Rosalee Keech, or Ellie Gruber, or Ann Armstrong, or…well, you get it. But we were all there. United and connected as kindred spirits. Ready to represent the League of Women Voters as one, to show our support to the world for this historical effort.
You Feel the Goodness…
This was turning into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. I had been to events, rallies, last year’s March on Washington. But this was different in so many ways. There were people here who were so like-minded, and they had no personal agendas, other than to see to it that they, their families, and the future generations of our planet would have a chance to survive. And they were determined to march for more than two miles beneath the glare of the hot sun to prove it. Believe me, it’s very warm when you are in such close proximity to other human beings — elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, back to stomach. These were good people, and we were all there for the same reason. Yes, I felt the goodness that day. But I missed meeting up to prepare to march with the rest of our League members.
“So,” I asked Michele, “What do you want to do now?” We were both feeling as though the March was not happening soon enough. Police officers stood guard around the perimeter of the barricades that separated the people who were lined up and ready to march, from those who were packed in on the outside – observing or, in some cases, begging the police to move the barricades aside to let them in. “Let’s take some pictures,” she said. And so we did. We took pictures of colorful banners and people with signs that spoke of the horrors in store if we didn’t bring about change.
But then, I noticed that we were beyond being “caught up” in the moment. We were, literally, caught up in the crowd. Outside of the marching perimeter, people were well-meaning, but they wanted to get closer to the street and were pressing us toward the barrier and we could barely move. At that point, I looked at Michelle and said, “I think I’m done for now.” She nodded her head, “Fine.” As it turned out, we had to call on a police officer to ask him to move a barricade to let us through to an “off-limits” space, so we could walk down and exit out of the area. At first, he said he couldn’t do it. I pointed to my button and sign. “I’m the president of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey,” I told him, “You can trust me – We’re honest people, and we won’t jump the line.” He pulled back the barricade and let us through.
Michele and I had something to eat, and then we went back to join the crowd. We didn’t see any celebrities or famous politicians that day. We missed spotting Sting, Mayor DiBlasio, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The truth is, the people carrying the signs, the ones who chanted and walked for miles with hope and conviction in their hearts and smiles on their faces, those were the true stars. Each one a unique part of humankind that made the People’s Climate March so special. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of that and truly grateful to be a part of an organization that recognizes combating climate change as a top priority. I hope you will join our efforts as we go forward and join the League today.