Georgetown students joined tens of thousands of protesters chanting, waving signs, and singing in New York City streets at the Sept. 17 March to End Fossil Fuels. Marchers called on President Joe Biden to take action against climate change by halting federal approvals for any new fossil fuel projects and phasing out drilling on public lands.
The U.S.’s largest climate protest since before COVID-19 was underscored by a sense of urgency as organizers and attendees called for aggressive policies to fight climate change.
“People really underestimate how powerful climate change is going to be and already is,” Meghan Tinnea (SFS ’26), Environmental Justice Co-Lead for Georgetown Renewable Energy and Environmental Network (GREEN), said. “These once in a lifetime [natural disasters] aren’t being given the credit they deserve. Climate change will discriminate, but it’s coming for us all eventually.”
The day of the march, Tinnea—who coordinated Georgetown’s presence at the event—and other students left Washington in the early morning. They joined hundreds of people on buses provided by the protest’s organizers, arriving in the afternoon to six or seven city blocks full of protesters. The march route spanned a little over a mile, with attendees holding handmade signs, chanting, singing, and dancing.
“The movement for climate justice has been a really long one and it’s been difficult to sustain momentum on that sometimes. One strategy a lot of organizations utilize is song. There were so many times where it was crowds of us, just singing songs for change,” Tinnea said about her experience at the march.
Sophia Monsalvo (SFS ’26), a first-time protester, described her time at the march as “transformative.” Monsalvo was particularly moved after seeing a grandmother and granddaughter marching together, wearing shirts reading ‘I’m here for my granddaughter’ and ‘I’m here for my grandma.’
“Even though older people aren’t gonna really live through a lot of the climate crisis, there’s still so many of them showing up. It was really beautiful to see and just be around so many people that were fighting for the same cause,” Monsalvo said.
Although participants felt moments of hope, there was an intense sense of urgency and anger at the actions of corporations. Abbey Murray (CAS ’27), GREEN’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion deputy coordinator, recalled passing buildings belonging to financial institutions who have funded fossil fuel development, including Citibank and JPMorgan Chase, during the march.
“The juxtaposition was very powerful, I think. We’re here marching in New York City, and yes, there is a very liberal presence in the city, but you also have these corporations, and corporations are powerful,” Murray said. “ It does come down to money, and money is power.”
After the march, the protesters gathered to hear musical performances and speakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
Organizers planned the march to coincide with the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting and Climate Ambition Summit, both of which took place in New York City in the days around the event. During the summit, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and praised the “movers”—countries who have made bold commitments to fight climate change, like Canada and Germany.
Notably, the United States, China, and India were not invited to speak at the summit. Observers have interpreted their exclusion as implying that the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters have not acted decisively enough.
Protest organizers—including student-run Fridays For Future, the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, DC-based Earthworks, and the Indigenous Environmental Network, a grassroots activist group—similarly condemned the U.S.’s limited action to address climate change.
The organizations made several demands, such as the repeal of the Willow Project and Mountain Valley Pipeline’s permits, and the declaration of a climate emergency. They also called for a just transition to renewable energy—the idea that new energy systems should be established in ways that do not create more poverty or inequity.
For those marching, actions like these to fight climate change feel deeply necessary.
Activists highlighted the health, economic, and resource inequities that have already been exacerbated by climate change. Indigenous populations cite higher rates of missing and murdered women in areas where workers come for oil and gas extraction. Some rural and low-income communities lack access to clean air and water because of fossil fuel development. Developing nations are projected to experience more intense impacts of climate-exacerbated natural disasters.
“Climate change is going to further emphasize the economic disparities and the classism that exists. So, in fighting for climate justice, we’re also fighting for human justice,” Monsalvo said.
When faced with these daunting realities, activists said it’s easy to lose hope, but that advocacy is critical in bringing about change.
“We’re passed a lot of points of no return, but we can still work to make sure that we’re not making it even worse,” Monsalvo said. “This is where we live, the air that we breathe, the planet that we live on. We can’t really go anywhere else as of right now. So we have to figure out a way to deal with it.”