Whether the rally achieved either purpose is anyone's guess. President Obama didn't make an appearance (he was reportedly golfing with Tiger Woods), and whether he'll show the political strength and foresightedness to live up to his recent rhetoric on climate change remains to be seen. (The fact that he held that rhetoric in abeyance during the election season, bringing it out only when victory was assured, suggests that he knows how unpopular it remains among a sizable portion of his constituents.) Van Jones, one of the day's speakers, opined that no matter what else the president does during the next four years, all his achievements will come to naught if he fails to act decisively on the world's climate. I'm inclined to agree, but I'm not sure the president will.
Regarding the climate movement writ large, 350.org creator Bill McKibben announced at the rally that February 17, 2013 was the day the movement finally came together and found its voice. That may be. By some estimates, there were as many as 50,000 people marching, chanting, dancing in the streets, and sign-holding (my favorite banner read "We Must Rise Faster Than the Seas"), though 35,000 is probably closer to the actual mark. That's a lot of people, and we sure did look united. On the bus ride home, though, I eavesdropped on a rather contentious debate about the merits of solar versus nuclear--a very old debate, and one that's likely to get us nowhere. I've been in this fight for over a decade now, and every time there's a big rally, someone says our time has finally come--yet obviously, measured in terms of tangible changes in policy or popular conviction, it hasn't. To expect 35,000 people--or 35 million, which is what the movement will need if it really wants to attract attention--to stand united on any issue seems like a lot to ask.
Still, for the moment, the day belongs to us.