River Walkers

Nearly half a million people filled New York City’s streets yesterday as part of the People’s Climate March, an event some are calling America’s largest political protest in at least a decade. Orion contributing editor Terry Tempest Williams, who was in attendance along with climate activist Tim DeChristopher and fellow Orion contributor Rick Bass (pictured above), sent us this letter from the middle of it all.

They just kept coming in waves, in torrents, a river of people convening on the streets of New York City in the march for climate justice. They just kept coming, hundreds of thousands of individuals, indigenous, black, white, brown, yellow, and red, a rainbow of colors winding through the canyons of Manhattan.

This movement of climate justice is no longer segregated, is no longer privileged, is no longer young or old, or the radical fringe moving toward the center. Instead, this movement resides in the core of a collective concern: Earth has a fever. There is no Planet B. What we witnessed on Sunday, September 21, was 400,000 individuals standing in the center of this crisis with love.

At one o’clock, the River of the People’s March became quiet, silent in a haunting moment of stillness. And then, a rolling cry of care rose from the street with undulating momentum like an animated heat wave blown by the wind that electrified the crowd like thunder and lightening followed by a rain of voices.

The written language of hand painted signs created its own poetry:

Save the Earth, Heal the Spirit
I can’t swim —
Let our voices rise, not the sea
I can’t swim —
Divest from fossil fuels
If the Rockefellers can do it, so we can we –
I am building a community that runs without fossil fuels
No more oil, no more coal –
Keep our future in our soil
It is raining, it is pouring
We are all Noah now —
Wall Street Corporations are junkies
Renewables bring peace —
People and the Planet, over profit —
Love your Mother –
We have to make peace with Nature —
Care now, you might be coming back
Quilters for the Planet –
Chefs for Climate Change –
Howling for the future –
Earth First!
Abbey was right –
Frack Off!
Hey, Obama, Don’t need no fracking drama!
Protect me –
I can’t swim —
Hi, I’m a friendly, sociable scientist –
Come talk to me –
Clean water is a right
Not just for the rich and white —
I am Water
I am Earth
I am Fire
I am Air
We are engaged in a crisis of breath
We can overcome –
Our planet has a fever –
We know who is responsible
Look out the window, U.N.
The Debate is over
The Facts are in
The Evidence is clear
The next flood won’t be biblical
Stop the Fossil Fuel Octopus –
Stop the tentacles of tar sands and oil shale —
Apathy kills
Our planet, our patience, our future –
Interfaith power and light –
Why not?
What’s next?
The future of all life depends on our mindful steps
We are the people
Walk with the river
This is what love looks like

Activists are flooding Wall Street. The present is now locking hands with the future. We can thank the organizers for mapping the territory of our engagement.

Last night inside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with a great phoenix rising above the congregation, the Reverend Serene Jones said, “We have a soul-size work before us.”

Something has been set in motion. With throbbing feet, we are river-walking.

Terry Tempest Williams is a writer, naturalist, and provostial scholar at Dartmouth College. She is the author, most recently, of When Women Were Birds; her most recent piece for Orion, “The Glorious Indifference of Wilderness,” appears in the September/October 2014 issue.


  1. Was there in spirit yesterday. What an amazing day.Terry, I love the way you used the poetry of the signs and slogans to create this “found” poem. Thank you for all your posts yesterday as the events unfolded.

  2. One of my favorite signs was: Rising Tides – Rising Rents – Rising People.

  3. Tears fall reading this, sitting in JFK for my sadly necessary flight home to Portland, OR. I rode to NYC on the people’s climate train, met diverse and inspiring activists, spiritual leaders who walk the walk (or, now, surf the wave). The moment of silence- and the following wave of grief, fury, joy, and commitment all at once- have changed me, again someway. Now, it’s time to indeed walk the water, hold hands across banks, across oceans, across differences and time and storms. And, even if we are as salmon fighting upstream to our death doing it, as salmon we will do so for the ones yet to come, at least.

  4. As always Terry…you are amazing with your ability to capture it all through the written word. This was big..this was so beautiful…the whole world standing together. The winds are shifting…

  5. Great thanks, Terry, and to all who marched. Thanks for showing the rest of us where the next stepping stones are, for sketching out a map of where the rapids will be deepest and that it will be smooth sailing ahead if we stick together, stay the course, love the land, defend nature fiercely, and expose every child to the beauty and spiritual bounty of the good Eaarth.

    I committed early in the year to do monarch butterfly education programs this weekend in WNC so we tagged and released monarchs for their migration near Asheville— in a spirit of solidarity to those of you in the deep canyons of NYC.

    Sanctuary much,

  6. So glad to have finally met you.
    Thanks for everything this past weekend. Looking forward to more and more.
    This is what love looks like…

  7. Your first three short paragraphs capture so beautifully and succinctly my own experience and reflections as I participated in this historic event. Thank you for articulating so clearly and gracefully, and for your own presence there and inspiration everywhere.

  8. Thank you, dear friends, for your comments. Indeed, we are in this together.
    Just finished “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A Voice From the Future” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. It’s one of the most important books I’ve read in a decade. Written from the point of view of future historians, “The most startling aspect of this story is just how much these people knew and how unable they were to act upon what they knew. Knowledge did not translate to power.” I encourage all of us to read this book. It’s smart and provocative and rings beyond truth to enlightened engagement.

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