Does Earth Day Matter? The Climate Rally on the National Mall Offers an Answer (Video)

climate rally on the national mall polar bear photo

Image credit: David DeFranza

With news that the climate bill had fizzled in the Senate spreading and thunderclouds looming over Washington, DC, things looked bleak for the Earth Day Network's Climate Rally on the National Mall early Sunday morning. Still, event staff hurried to complete preparations to ensure the stage, tents, exhibits, and lawn would be ready for the crowds—however large or small they ended up being.

In spite of the bad news from the Hill—and menacing weather—Nate Byer, Earth Day 2010 campaign director, remained excited, rushing in and out of tents, talking into his radio, and trying his best to heed his staff's warnings to "stay clean." The success of the event, it seemed in these early hours, may indeed ride upon his enthusiasm.

Does Earth Day matter? Participants in the Climate Rally on the National Mall weigh in.

And in Byer's mind, the Climate Rally was not simply a field day. There would be music, sure; dancing, of course; but the reason his team had spent months of hard work putting the event together was to show that climate change and energy policy are issues that transcend environmentalism. He told TreeHugger that it's an issue that concerns "national security...the youth community, the social justice's a movement that affects all of us and that we all care about."

How much people care, however, is a hard thing to pinpoint. The United States, weary environmentalists often point out, just suffered a recession of historic proportions. It is, perhaps, a good excuse for a person to forget about LED lightbulbs or postpone buying a hybrid—but there are several other, more unsettling, sources of fatigue when it comes to issues of the planet and climate.

The president's inability to derive meaningful legislation on climate and energy policy, the stark failure of COP15, the erosion of support for legitimate climate science, and the persistent denial movement are bitter challenges much harder to accept than increasing concern over personal finances.

climate rally on the national mall empty photo

Things were looking lonely during the first hours of the Climate Rally on the National Mall. Image credit: David DeFranza

Even as the first speakers took the stage—followed by the first musicians—it seemed that, perhaps, the movement had not weathered the strain. In those early hours, only a few people had found their place on the large lawn—the empty corrals stretching into the distance as an invitation to the ridicule of skeptics.

Then, as Bob Weir took the stage, the sun broke through the clouds. A more palpable turning could not have been imagined—nor scripted by the now-frenzied staff. As the air warmed, the crowd swelled, overflowing from the area in front of the stage, filling in the lawn behind, and expanding to the grassy strips on either side.

music stage climate rally photo

Music was the sugar, the message was the medicine. Image credit: David DeFranza

Sure, the draw for many was the music—a line-up that included the Roots, John Legend, Bob Weir, Sting, and many others—but once there they became part of something more.

Speaker after speaker took the stage, offering comments on the destructiveness of coal mining, the floundering climate bill, simple things we can all do at home, and the dire necessity of immediate action. If the music was the candy, Avatar star CCH Pounder told TreeHugger, than the speakers "were the medicine."

climate rally large crowd photo

By the end, the crowds were impressive. Image credit: David DeFranza

Talking with people in the crowd, it quickly became clear that this medicine was not something they resigned themselves to on Earth Day. Perhaps they had been infected by Byer's enthusiasm, or the camaraderie of the crowd, but the "medicine," it seemed, had become part of their lives, more a vitamin than a cough syrup, and coming together on Earth Day was a means of solidifying their beliefs, renewing their determination, and finding companionship with people who may not speak loudly about the importance of environmentalism during the rest of the year, but offer their silent support nevertheless.

Earth Day, these everyday environmentalists told me, is not simply about recycling; it's about showing you care, finding community, and speaking out loud—it's the assertion that the values of environmentalism are important and those that hold them are not alone.

And it is in this way, above all others, that Earth Day should be celebrated every day.

More Earth Day Coverage from TreeHugger
Earth Day 2010 on Planet Green
Read more about the Climate Rally on the National Mall:
From Patrick Stump to Robert Kennedy, Jr.: Musicians, Activists, and Celebrities Muse on the Meaning of Earth Day (Video)
Thinking About Earth Day: Past, Present, and Future (Video)
Margaret Atwood Offers Three Actions That Have a Big Impact (Video)
James Cameron on Why Earth Day Matters and What We Can Learn From the Amazon (Video)

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