Woodstock (OK, not Woodstock, but a really big, motivated crowd)

Tighter squeeze

We weren’t really heading to Woodstock, just the west side of Central Park from Columbus Circle to 86th Street and beyond, but before the day was over, we were nearly half a million strong.

The turnout at the People’s Climate March seemed to catch Manhattan – and maybe the world – off guard. The organizers had been touting a 100K+ turnout for the march. I read somewhere the next day (or saw it on the NYC news, perhaps) that the city police department had prepared for/anticipated 30,000 people.

The final count was 410,000, give or take a few.

My cousin Karen, 10 years younger and from the very small town of Danville, Ark., first noticed the people with the odd little camera/computer devices that measured the crowd. (Soon we noticed them at frequent intervals.) Just two small women from Arkansas in matching red T-shirts, we were easy to lose in that crowd, though Karen did get her photo taken by someone official-looking and I got video-interviewed close to the end of the march.

The young videographers had noticed the “For my five grandchildren” on the back of my T-shirt and wanted to talk to us. They seemed surprised that I actually live in Little Rock and we’d come so far.

Most people didn’t even recognize the Arkansas shape on the front of our shirts, guessing “Ohio!” and “Indiana!”

But let me go back to the beginning. We knew it was going to be crazy when Penn Station was overrun with people of all ages and in all kinds of T-shirts, holding all kinds of signs and wearing all sorts of backpacks gathered on the platform to await the oddly shortened (as in four or five cars) C trains. The first two trains that came along were so packed there was no chance of getting in.

A lovely and kind woman from Long Island named Billie, whom we’d met on the platform, began plotting other possible ways to get to the meeting place should we not make the next train, which, fortunately, we did, along with two other women from upstate New York whom we’d picked up in our little group. The doors opened and we leapt in. Crammed in. Mashed our way forward so the doors could close, leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of people waiting for the next train.

They eventually got there, though.

On the subway, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council told Billie, who was meeting that group, that they’d had word that closer to a half million people were expected. Don’t know where she got her info, but that was a much closer estimate.

Our marching group, mainly students and grandparents, it seemed – was between 66th and 72nd streets. We were at about 68th when we first arrived.

When we first got to our gathering place, the students, families, elders and women section – the second wave after indigenous peoples and climate disaster survivors – it was before 10 and not crazily crowded.

When we first got to our gathering place, the students, families, elders and women section – the second wave after indigenous peoples and climate disaster survivors – it was before 10 and not crazily crowded.

The crowd grew rapidly.

The crowd grew rapidly, as people just kept coming. And coming. And coming.

Chanting, singing, chatting – we had time for lots of activity as we awaited the march.

Chanting, singing, chatting – we had time for lots of activity as we awaited the march.

At 11:30, when the march was to begin, we were sardine-packed again and at a dead standstill. We thought the event was getting a late start. When you’re in the middle of a mass of people – and the phones go dead for an hour, and off and on all day from too many in service – you have no idea what’s going on before or behind you.

Just before starting to move, we were still chatting and crowding together.

Just before starting to move, we were still chatting and crowding together.

From watching video and reading reports later, we know now that the march did start on time, or close to it, but so many people were in front of us that our section didn’t start moving until a little after 12:30.

But all of a sudden, we moved a few feet! Then stopped. Then moved some more. Then stopped.

But all of a sudden, we moved a few feet! Then stopped. Then moved some more. Then stopped.

By the moment of silence at 12:58 – which was beautiful and eerily perfectly choreographed – we’d barely advanced at all.

But once we hit Columbus Circle, the movement was pretty steady, until later in the march when the police started stopping us at intersections to let traffic move. (Our cabbie the next day told us it took “one hour and 45 minutes to get through an intersection!” He wasn’t pleased, but he was impressed.)

Karen and I moved ahead every chance we got, but we never got out of our student and elder section. The mass of well-behaved, friendly humanity was a wonder to behold.

Karen and I moved ahead every chance we got, but we never got out of our student and elder section. The mass of well-behaved, friendly humanity was a wonder to behold.

There's the CNN building! We're getting somewhere.

There’s the CNN building! We’re getting somewhere.

We'd caught up to the Mom's Clean Air Force, a group from many states, by the Rockefeller Center.

We’d caught up to the Mom’s Clean Air Force, a group from many states, by the Rockefeller Center.

The first of several Jumbotrons showing the Manhattan march or activities all over the world seemed worth a photo.

The first of several Jumbotrons showing the Manhattan march or activities all over the world seemed worth a photo.

Eventually we got funneled into a smaller space, which hindered progress again.

Eventually we got funneled into a smaller space …

... which hindered progress again.

… which hindered progress again.

We kept seeing this attractive, very elderly lady, dressed entirely in purple, with purple nails and a purple streak in her hair. She was in a wheelchair, but she made it to the very end, holding her sign the whole way.

We kept seeing this attractive, very elderly lady, dressed entirely in purple, with purple nails and a purple streak in her hair. She was in a wheelchair, but she made it to the very end, holding her sign the whole way.

The squeeze really took hold at Times Square. My ears rang for two days from the sounds made by the masses.

The squeeze really took hold at Times Square. My ears rang for two days from the sounds made by the masses.

We got a text alert at 1:51 saying the initial count was 310,000. Way off the final total. I heard/read the last group to start came in six hours later. Karen and I reached the end of the march – at 34th Street and 11th Avenue – at 3:20, and the ending party had pretty much dissipated.

But at least we got to finish. Just after reaching the end, we got another text alert:

“The march is so big that we’re asking people to disperse just before they reach 11th Ave. and 42nd Street.”

We were beat and happy.

These old feet were made for walking, but they were tired – and my toes peeling – by the time it was all said and done.

These old feet were made for walking, but they were tired – and my toes peeling – by the time it was all said and done.

A few people still lingered and visited at the end, but most, like us, headed to the High Line or a watering hole.

A few people still lingered and visited at the end, but most, like us, headed to the High Line or a watering hole.

Police – and a token communist handing out newspapers – were the last people we passed on the official route.

Police – and a token communist handing out newspapers – were the last people we passed on the official route.

More about the trip to come later, but I had to get this out there for the record. We made lots of news outside Arkansas. Not so much here. But Karen and I know what happened, because we were part of history.

And lets hope it helps turn things around.

As one of my favorite signs of the day said, “There is not Planet B.”

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