The People’s Climate March took place on September 21, 2014 in New York City. Billed as the “Largest Climate March in History,” the event (led by 350.org) mobilized unprecedented numbers of people to call for “climate justice for all” and action on climate change legislation and hosted a coalition of more than 1500 unique organizations. Organizers estimated that the total turnout was around 400,000 people (although other estimates are closer to 150,000) and it took more than five hours for protesters to cross the official starting point of the march. Conversely, the recent #FollowFrancis rally for climate justice during the Pope’s visit to Washington, D.C. on September 24th2015, mobilized only a few thousand participants. Despite expectations for a large turnout for the event, people attending the rally filled only the front portion of the first of five blocks portioned off for the event on the National Mall.
The vast majority of People’s Climate March participants lived in the US (94%), and nearly half lived near the event in the Tri-State area (46.8%). Consistent with other studies of protest and the environment, we find that participants were more likely to be female (54.8%) and highly educated (44.4% held graduate degrees and 36% held college degrees) compared to the general US population. Participants were also predominantly liberal (84.7%). The age distribution for participants was bimodal, with a median age of 39 and two main groups in their mid-20s and mid-60s.
Despite their demographic similarity, we find that participants in the People’s Climate March came from a diverse range of backgrounds, affiliations, and activism experience. Of the participants we surveyed, 37.4% had not protested at all in the past five years, 44.9% had protested a few times, while highly active protesters were in the minority. In particular, experience with climate protest was low: about half of the protesters who had participated in at least one protest in the past five years had never participated in a climate protest. When asked about their first protest experience, most respondents reported that they had protested for anti-war issues or other topics. The figures below show the decade of first protest experience and topic of first protest experience for survey respondents.
Organizations, social networks, and computer-mediated channels all shaped the outcome of the People’s Climate March, albeit in different ways at different stages. As we continue to analyze the connections between mobilization channels and participation using the survey data from the People’s Climate March, we are especially interested in the question of how large-scale protest events expand their reach and, in some cases, become “historic” in their ability to mobilize large numbers of people for a specific issue.