The People’s Climate March took place Saturday, April 29 in Washington, D.C. Some Iowans participated, others took part in sister marches in towns like Iowa City and one group marched all week from near Williamsburg to join a march in Des Moines.
Christine Nobiss, co-chair of Indigenous Iowa, traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak at the 200,000-strong march.
“The message that I wanted to get through was, ‘Decolonize your mind.’ It was more than marching for the climate,” Nobiss said. “The only way through this very difficult time on this earth is to return to indigenous ideologies and methodologies.”
Nobiss said she believes environmental destruction has been caused by capitalism, consumerism and a human compulsion to colonize everything.
“You cannot separate the climate change issue from the fight that indigenous people have been fighting now during this current period of colonization for 500 years.”
Activists at multiple marches mentioned the Dakota Access Pipeline, which is now complete and soon to begin pumping oil across Iowa and surrounding states, as one factor that inspired them to participate in the marches.
“A lot of the decisions that [the Iowa Utilities Board that approved the pipeline] made were made in favor of corporate greed for the sake of the people on top. They’re not thinking about the greater good,” Nobiss said.
Ed Fallon of environmentalist nonprofit Bold Iowa led a group of activists in the weeklong Climate Justice Unity March from Little Creek Camp near Williamsburg to the People’s Climate March in Des Moines. Fallon had previously walked alone across the state to spread awareness about the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The group held public forums each night in the towns where they camped. In Searsboro local children watched a puppet show about two dogs trying to change human behavior for healthier living and a healthier planet. In Sully marchers talked with people from the Christian society Gideon International. In Reasnor and Pleasant Hill local churches opened their doors for forums and shelter from the inclement weather.
The group marched along country highways and were harassed by passersby, from cars racing right up to the marchers or slowing down to film them, to insults, whooping, middle fingers and a young man repeatedly shouting, “Trump! Make America great again!” before breaking out into a rap about Trump. Shelley Buffalo of Iowa City attributes this to propaganda videos spreading rumors about Little Creek Camp, the location from which the march began.
Darrin Ehret of Deep River put up a confederate flag when the group arrived. The next morning he came to the camp and apologized, saying he had heard bad things about them which did not appear to be true. In the end, they found common ground in support of wind energy and water quality, a subject on which Ehret said he would engage others in his community on in the future. He told the group that the march was bringing awareness.
Ehret’s use of the confederate flag led to a conversation with locals about how different people see it differently, and a proposal to carry the American flag on the march led to a discussion about its significance as well.
“I want to take back the narrative about what this flag represents, as a Native American and as a woman,” Buffalo said. “Native Americans have served in the military disproportionately to the rest of the population. We carried it honorably and proudly and we wanted to remind all those passing us on the road that we are Americans, we are all Americans — and we’re in this together,” Buffalo said.
Buffalo encouraged the group to have women carry the American flag, because “our society is really out of balance. There is not respect for the feminine,” she said. “This connects to the fact that there isn’t a respect for Mother Earth … This is a type of approach that is short-term and only profits a very very few people.”
A tribal flag also traveled with the marchers, carried by a family that came from South Dakota to join in. Their tribe was one of the first to answer the call to come to the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance camp at Standing Rock, North Dakota. Three generations of this family traveled to Iowa for the march, and the grandmother of the family said seeing the youth’s involvement in the movement gives her hope.
Several marchers described the week-long walk as a spiritual experience. As the crowd marched briskly down the highway to avoid hypothermia in the chilly downpour, a woman said she was grateful for the rain — that it was a blessing because water is life.
Because of the constant rain the Iowa City march was shortened and a rally was held inside one of the community rooms at the Senior Center. It was standing room only with approximately 60 people gathered to listen to short speeches by community members about the various ways we can combat climate change politically and also how to have tough conversations with people who disagree or think that climate change is a non-issue.
Nobiss says she remains optimistic about the future, if organizations can learn to collaborate effectively. “Iowa can make some real change. Iowa politics are very important to the rest of the country,” she said. “I don’t see a serious revolution happening and it has to happen.”