The largest climate rally in the nation’s history happened in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, and the movement to mitigate climate change has Dan Asselin to thank for some of the estimated 50,000 attendees.
Mr. Asselin, a musician who grew up in East Hampton and has performed at venues including Neoteric Fine Art in Amagansett, served as a volunteer bus organizer for the Forward on Climate rally, which was spearheaded by the groups 350.org, the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus. One hundred fifty buses brought approximately 7,500 people from 30 states to the rally, said Mr. Asselin, with buses leaving from locations throughout New York City and Long Island. One, he said, carried a contingent from Hurricane Sandy-ravaged Far Rockaway, Queens.
“Sunday was pretty amazing,” Mr. Asselin said of the rally. “At one point, we were standing in front of the White House, the entire mass of people was coming down Pennsylvania Avenue, and it was endless.”
The rally, he said, “is about showing the Obama administration and, really, the entire U.S. government that this is important to us. It may not be on their radar, but it’s on ours.”
At the forefront of the climate change mitigation movement, said Mr. Asselin, are efforts to halt the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, which would transport synthetic crude oil from Canada to multiple points in the United States, and a campaign, beginning with colleges and universities, to divest from fossil fuel companies.
Mr. Asselin pointed to Bill McKibben, an author, activist, the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College in Vermont, and founder of 350.org, as a primary inspiration for his activism. “350.org is decisively leading the way in advocating for a sane response to climate change,” he said. “They’re responding to some really discouraging political apathy and avoidance across the board. People, citizens from all across the country, are responding to that.”
Mr. McKibben, said Mr. Asselin, “kind of wrote the book on climate change.” Indeed, Mr. McKibben’s books include “The End of Nature,” an early warning about climate change published in 1989, and “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” from 2010. “The idea of a climate that was warming due to human causes had been around,” Mr. Asselin said, “but he put it on the map in a real way.”
Mr. Asselin, who lives in Brooklyn, referred to his roots on the South Fork as another motivating force behind his passion for environmental activism. “Growing up in a rural environment is what makes me feel so connected to this issue. I know, just from doing outreach, that a lot of people in the city don’t see the connection,” he said.
Similarly, he and some others of his generation — Mr. Asselin is 26 — are sometimes frustrated by their peers’ apathy. “That’s why things are how they are,” he said. “My generation is politically apathetic. And I was too, until this issue lit me up. I know that state very well. It’s a sad place to be.”
But, he added, “it’s not completely their fault. They see the political system is really corrupt. They think their voice doesn’t matter. The relationship between corporations and the federal government is messed up. But this generation is really capable of organizing itself. We had 112 on two buses; all of them paid online and were ready to come down at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. So there’s some hope.”
And while 50,000 is a modest figure relative to some previous rallies in Washington, that number is both a milestone and one that may be surpassed as 350.org carries out its mission to build “a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis,” according to its Web site.
For Mr. Asselin, the Forward on Climate rally was personally fulfilling as well. “I’ve been so completely immersed in the coordination and planning for the buses,” he said, “and all the responsibilities that go along with that, that being there was a very personal experience.”