On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency took down its website on climate change. On Saturday, temperatures in Washington, D.C. soared to a record 91 degrees, capping off the hottest April ever recorded in the capital city.
The irony wasn’t lost on those gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Undeterred by the heat, hundreds of thousands of Americans marched on the White House for climate, labor and racial justice. The protest, which marked President Trump’s 100th day in office, drew parents, students, teachers, scientists, artists and veterans from all over the country.
Among the rally’s most visible attendees were the 21 young people suing the federal government for its role in perpetuating climate change. But kids of all ages showed up to the National Mall.
Children were joined by parents and grandparents. “I’m not going to be here long, and I don’t know if there’s anything that I can do to make this different — to make a change — but they need to know how to go about making a change,” said Anna Easley, who brought her granddaughters to the protest. “I want my granddaughters to be the change agents of this U.S.A.”
A few kids came out to support their mom or dad. “My dad works for the EPA, and I am so proud of him. He is absolutely amazing, and he is an inspiration to me every day that I should stand up for what I believe in and protect the Earth,” said Claire Olechiew. “I know that everything he does every day is to make sure that I will have a wonderful future.” Olechiw’s mother, Theresa, is an environmental engineer.
The procession was led by indigenous activists. Indigenous people have played a key role in recent fights over fossil fuel infrastructure — most notably the Standing Rock Sioux, who organized a months-long protest against the Dakota Access pipeline.
College students turned out en masse. A group of undergrads from Morehouse College, Spelman College and the University of Georgia bussed from Atlanta to attend the march. “First and foremost, we’re here because Trump is looking to push back Obama initiatives, such as the Clean Power Plan,” said Morehouse student Canaan Gary. “With the exploitation of fossil fuels, water and air’s going to be more polluted.”
A number of veterans also took part in the march. Robert Phay, an Army veteran and retired University of North Carolina faculty member, called the Trump administration “the worst in the 78 years I’ve been on this planet… I hope this provides a little basis for defeating him in four years.”
“The planet’s cooking, and it’s hot, and I have two kids” said Sarah Mess, who served eight years in the Army, including a tour of Somalia in 1993. “That’s what brought me here today.”
“I like being around all of these people because it really brings out a lot of energy, and it’s inspirational to see everybody coming together,” said David Soumis, a Vietnam veteran who served in both the Navy and the Air Force. “We need people to speak up and show their support.”
The mood on the mall was joyful. After 100 days of protesting the new administration, activists know how to throw a party. From drum circles to bagpipes to brass bands, musicians kept the crowd energized as the sun beat down.
Saturday saw another trope of Trump-era activism: the competition to create the best protest sign. Said one boy’s sign: “The climate is changing faster than my 13-year-old body.”
The 2014 climate march in New York City was a spectacle of signs, banners, flags and kites. Marchers went even bigger this year, building elaborate floats and giant figurines.
The DC government issued a hypothermia alert in the late afternoon as temperatures spiked. Protesters took advantage of the numerous water stations along the march route to the White House. A few undressed to beat the heat.
Over the course of the afternoon, marchers made their way down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, where they cheered, chanted and beat their chests. Protestors could be heard around downtown Washington well into the evening.