Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Reflections on People's Climate March and Shabbat, April 29, 2017

by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

 “You know things are serious when the introverts arrive” is my favorite protest sign. I love this sign because I’m an introvert. I hate crowds, and protests are near the bottom of my list of what to do for fun.

I also hate hot weather. I hate it because my body hates it and lets me know in no uncertain terms. And on the day of the People’s Climate March in Washington at the end of April, temperatures soared to a record in the low 90s.

Yet despite the crowds and despite the heat, I went to Washington this past Shabbat. I went because I had to. I went because I had to put my body in that space in order to say, to myself and to others, “I care about what is happening to our planet and its inhabitants.”

I didn’t experience the march in the way I anticipated. A few days beforehand, I was invited represent the faith contingent and to help hold the CLIMATE, JOBS, JUSTICE banner during the press conference before the march and then to help carry it through the march. I was overwhelmed by what felt like both a huge honor and a wonderful opportunity. The major downside was that I wouldn’t be able to march with my friends in the faith group. But again, despite the anticipated discomfort, I said "yes".

Thus it was that I arrived at the Reflecting Pool hours before the march was scheduled to start and was given a Press Conference pass. And thus it was that I stood between a woman from Standing Rock, representing the Indigenous Peoples contingent, and a Hindu woman, also representing the Faith contingent, and helped hold one of the official Peoples Climate Movement banners. Thus it was that I appeared in pictures, along with all the others holding the banner, on the official PCM site and on many other sites.

And, thus it was that my experience of the march began with hearing, up close and clearly, the words of all the speakers at the press conference.
by People's Climate March; KZA on far right

Ten people spoke, each for a few short minutes. The speakers were not movie stars. They were not politicians. They were not scientists. Thespeakers were all activists. They were people working in the trenches. They were men, women, and children feeling the impact of climate change in their lives and in the lives of their communities. They ranged from a Black Lives Matters activist to a member of Iraq Veterans against the War, from a member of the New York State Nurses Union to a Muslim climate activist from Green Faith, from a volunteer for the League of Conservation Voters to a Native American woman and her two daughters who are part of Our Children's Trust law suit against the federal government for ignoring climate change. They were from many states and were of many colors.

by People's Climate March; KZA fourth from right

This rainbow collection of speakers spoke passionately about the work they are doing. They spoke passionately about the ways that people are already being impacted by climate change. They spoke passionately about their concerns for the future and the need for action. It was a powerful way to begin the day.

After the press conference – accompanied by my amazing friend David, at whose home I stayed while in DC – I went to the starting point of the march to meet up with the banner and the others who would carry it. The day was already hot, and my body was feeling the heat. I did my best to stay out of the sun and hydrated.

We found the banner, and I sat with others I’d met earlier, waiting for the march to begin. Also in the front of the march were the Indigenous Peoples and youth contingents. Those of us waiting together gathered from conversations going on nearby that negotiating was taking place related to the order of the marchers at the front of the march.

Eventually, we were asked to hold the banner, now on poles so it could be held up high. A sense of anticipation that the march would begin soon filled the air. Then we were asked to move the banner, and we were now in the sun. I could feel myself getting hotter, and I began to worry that I was over doing it. I wanted to start, to walk at least part of the march, but I began to realize I couldn’t last much longer.

David had told me that we could go to his office, located on the route of the march, to cool off when I got too hot. Finally, I realized that I was pushing myself too far, and I said to him, “Let’s go.” I knew that I had to be careful. I’ve had heat exhaustion too many times, and it is really miserable, as well as potentially dangerous. I was grateful for my friend’s support.

by People's Climate March

As I had made my plans to go to the march, I had known that I would be breaking many of my personal boundaries for keeping Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. At services the night before the march at Adas Israel in DC, I felt myself entering into a different kind of Shabbat, one that would encompass the entirety of my experience of the march. My colleague Rabbi Judy Kummer expressed the tension so well in her d’var Torah at the interfaith service at the Boston climate march – “On this day of rest, we cannot rest.” It was Shabbat, Saturday, the day of rest, but I needed to be at this protest. I needed to not rest.

And yet, I also had to rest. I had to rest because it was hot. I had to rest in order to be OK. And so I left the march, and I rested. Later, somewhat refreshed, I rejoined the march near the end, and to my delight met up with other Boston and New York Jewish Climate Action Network activists who had marched with the faith contingent, some of them holding our stunning new JCAN banner. I was so very glad to see them.

And then, before the events of the day ended, I had to leave. I had to leave because it was hot. I had to leave so that I wouldn’t get sick.

Back at my friends’ home, I had the luxury of being able to care for myself the way I needed to, to rest and take care of my body. And because of this, hot and tired though I was, I managed to avoid being overcome by intense symptoms of heat exhaustion.

For me, it was both difficult to be at the march and difficult not to be with my friends. But I am glad I went, and I am glad I said “yes” to holding the banner. I am glad I heard all those voices speaking passionately about climate change impact. I’m glad I experienced awareness of last-minute discussions at the start of the march.

I’m glad about all of these things because they broke my heart open a little bit more. Reading the news the next day about layoffs and closings of departments at hospitals large and small across the country, about another black youth shot and killed by police, about white power groups building alliances, about fighting and starvation in South Sudan, and so much more chaos around the globe, I envisioned the global picture of climate change in my mind with renewed clarity. I saw, and I continue to see, a future with tensions rising higher and higher and with vulnerable people ever more vulnerable. The day of the march, I experienced the impact of heat on my body, and I was able to keep myself safe. Due to my economic, social, racial, and geographic status, I have the opportunity and the option to take care of myself. So many others have neither the opportunity nor the option. As the months and years roll by, opportunities and options to take care of ourselves will grow ever fewer, and more and more, they will be available only to those who are privileged.

Like me.

And so, despite the heat, despite my dislike of crowds, despite the fact that is was Shabbat, I showed up, and I will show up again. On this day of rest, we could not rest. And yet we must rest. For only by resting, can we again not rest on a day of rest. That is the paradox with which we must live as we take the moral stand of being present for our planet and all its inhabitants.

May the day come once again that on every day of rest, we may rest.

Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long, the co-founder and President pro-tem of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network. She is a board certified chaplain and serves as an Eco-Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spiritand is a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY in 2005 and lives in Wayland, MA.


  1. I so appreciate your honesty and dedication to the cause that means so much to you. As you pushed your own boundaries, you knew about self care. Not because you were selfish. But because you knew you need to be well in order to continue to be a role model to others. The INTENTION is more valuable in the end of the day! Kol hakavod, my dear friend. So honored to know you!

  2. Katy, this is a beautiful reflection on the March. Thank you for everything you did to mobilize our community and for sharing your thoughts with us. See you at next action and shabbat shalom!

  3. Wonderful- thanks so much for sharing, and caring for your body, so you can continue to inspire by example and all you do!

  4. A powerful story Katy! You knew when to take care of yourself in order to stand up for others. A beautiful life lesson for all of us!


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