Westchester Residents Attend Largest Climate Change Rally

Local residents and activists were among the 40,000 to 50,000 to attend the Forward on Climate Rally at the National Mall Sunday asking President Barack Obama to nix the Keystone XL oil pipeline project.

Busloads of Westchester residents joined the reported 40,000 to 50,000 who gathered at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in the gusty and frigid weather for the Forward on Climate Rally, which organizers are calling the largest U.S. climate change rally to date.

“I just feel personally that it’s urgent to reach a critical mass of public outcry for political leadership to take action on climate change,” said former Irvington Mayor and Trustee Nicola Coddington, a decade-long environmental activist. “The laws of physics are not waiting for us to believe in them. It just boggles my mind that there are still people in the media and in politics that question the science of climate change.”

Coddington signed up for the Forward on Climate Rally through the 350.org’s website. The grassroots environmental action organization is one of three main national sponsors of Sunday's event, along with the Sierra Club and The Hip-Hop Caucus.

The rally was followed by a march on the White House to ask President Barack Obama to reject the proposed $5.3 billion Keystone XL oil pipeline and keep his promises to act on climate change. The organizations also encouraged activists around the country to hold their own solidarity events in their U.S. town on that same day.  

Supporters of the of TransCanada Corp.'s pipeline say the project would create jobs and help the country reduce its dependence on foreign oil. Those who are against the pipeline say that the oil sands extraction process produces far more carbon pollutants than crude oil extraction, can pollute water and soil and even cause cancer.

Click here for more information on the project from TransCanda Corp. and here for more information on the pipeline from 350.org. 

“If the pipeline goes forward it would unleash the carbon that is in the tar sands in Canada and cause, what scientists say would be 'game over' for the climate," said Coddington, who was arrested in front of the White House in the summer of 2011 during a 350.org civil disobedience demonstration asking to stop the pipeline. “We really shouldn’t be investing in a fossil fuel infrastructure. We should direct all our investments toward clean renewable energy.”

Coddington hopped on a bus that was organized by WESPAC Foundation, a social justice and environmental non-profit advocacy organization based in White Plains. WESPAC chartered two full coach buses with more than 100 people on board, including people from Westchester, Bronx, Rockland, Putnam and even Rhode Island.

Roger Drew, a member of WESPAC’s advisory board of Westchester who organized the buses, got the word out through social media, email and mailings along with posting it on the national sponsors’ websites. Drew was pleased to see the diversity on WESPAC’s buses and at the event itself, which was attended by the children, teens, adults, families and senior citizens. Despite the unpleasant weather, Drew said it was an energetic event.

“There were a lot of speakers from indigenous communities and first nation communities who live in areas that will be most adversely affected by the pipeline and tar sands,” said Roger. “They were talking about how there is already an increase rate of cancers and were really very powerful speakers. I think people felt really good about it. People on our bus were really excited and even wrote letters to send to to elected officials. People really want to come out and stay involved."

Westchester’s religious and student community also took a stand Sunday. Dr. Kathleen Deignan—a professor of religious studies and faculty of environmental studies at Iona College, a GreenFaith Fellow and member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Notre Dame—is one of the four conveners of the Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College.

The Berry Forum partnered with the students of Iona College Green, the school’s student environmental organization, like Frederick Carter and Christine Samwaroo to organize a bus of about 30 people to head down to D.C. on Sunday. Iona College just launched a interdisciplinary studies major that incorporates religious studies, sustainable science studies and political science policies to prepare students working in corporations and civic areas for jobs that will help the U.S. and its citizens toward moving into taking on green habits and a more sustainable way of living

Deignan said it is important to mix religion and environmental awareness as people of all faiths see Earth as a “a gift of the Creator's creativity and benevolence, entrusted to Humankind to mind and mend, to nurture and delight in.”

Deignan said it is troubling for people of faith to see the gift of Earth turned into a wasteland instead of a flourishing planet, as it once was. 

“So on one hand, it is a mystical crisis—we have turned against life itself, disrupted its balance, tripped a death spiral," said Deignan. "On the other hand, it is a moral crisis—we are collaborators with divinity in the care of Earth, and we have violated a sacred covenant. Either way, life is in the balance, and we are summoned to awaken and act.”

Did you attend this weekend's rally? Tell us how it was in the comments section and upload your pictures and video clips. 

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