PHILADELPHIA — A collective strength and spirited commitment to the environment were on display on July 24, when more than 10,000 people took part in the National March for Clean Energy in scorching heat and wilting humidity the day before the Democratic National Convention opened in the City of Brotherly Love.
Members of an environmentally concerned group from St. Mary’s Parish in Pompton Lakes, N.J., participated in the march in downtown Philadelphia. The Franciscan Response to Fracking (FRF), part of the Social Justice Ministry at St. Mary’s, joined activists from many states to demonstrate the need for clean energy sources to replace fossil fuels, a major cause of destructive climate change. FRF is a member group of Americans Against Fracking (AAF), the organizer of the march, which is a coalition of roughly 100 environmental organizations, faith-based institutions, and civic groups. Its goal is to ban hydraulic fracturing (also called fracking), an extreme and risky method of extracting oil and natural gas from underground shale deposits.
The St. Mary’s group generated interest in the march through regular notices in the parish bulletin; articles in The Beacon diocesan newspaper as well as several local newspapers; appearances by FRF members at farmers’ markets; and participation by members in environmental events at universities. In addition, the event was prominently featured on the FRF website www.EarthActions.org. As a result, the FRF group helped fill one of several buses that departed North Jersey before heading to Philadelphia early that Sunday morning.
Becoming Part of Something Bigger
On the bus with FRF were members of the Ramapough Lenape Turtle Clan of northern New Jersey. As the bus rumbled its way southwest toward Pennsylvania, native chants and prayers accompanied by tribal drumming inspired the riders. While the FRF members’ intentions for the day were not as dramatic as the Ramapough chanting, they were, nevertheless, important and central to the day’s achievement. Their goals were for a joyous, peaceful, purposeful and successful march.
As soon as the bus crossed the bridge into Philadelphia, the group knew they were going to be part of something much bigger, not just in size but in scope and effect. Anticipating the convention, several other marches and rallies had been planned for the day. Thousands of people were lining the streets, many waving creative banners supporting Bernie Sanders, and signs reading “No Fracking” and “No TPP” were everywhere. Police officers throughout the city were helpful in keeping the experience a peaceful one, said Charlie Nunzio, another FRF member who participated.
The National March for Clean Energy began at Philadelphia’s City Hall. In the city hall’s courtyard, an interdenominational prayer service preceded the procession onto the streets. This included a Muslim call to prayer and a Buddhist prayer. A rabbi, a Catholic priest and Chief Mann from the Ramapough Lenape Clan concluded the service.
Several from the FRF group wore their black t-shirts with the inscription “St. Mary’s, Pompton Lakes, NJ, Franciscan Response to Fracking.” Artwork features a blue and green planet Earth and beneath that is the question, “What are you doing to save our planet?” Over the years, I have given the T-shirts to fellow activists and we spotted some of these shirts among other marchers.
The St. Mary’s group marched behind a large green banner reading, “St. Mary’s Franciscan Response to Climate Change.” Other FRF marchers carried signs reading, “Keep It in the Ground,” “No More Oil Trains,” and similar messages. At one point, the marchers spotted Josh Fox, the acclaimed director of a series of films focusing on the fracking-related threats to climate change.
Fox had been featured at St. Mary’s in September 2011 by the St. Mary’s Social Justice Ministry. The group presented a free screening of Fox’s first movie, “Gasland,” which had been nominated for an Academy Award. Following the screening Fox spoke to the audience, took questions from the group and played his banjo. The FRF group was formed as a result of that encounter. In Philadelphia, posing with the group for a picture, Fox said he was delighted to know FRF was still going strong.
Mobilizing to Change Energy Policies
While July 24 turned out to be very warm, the discomfort of the day was, to a large extent, countered by the importance and excitement of the event and the cooperation of so many people. Along with police officers who provided out-of-towners with directions, there were also AAF volunteers placed along the mile-long stretch, offering water and bags of ice. Umbrellas and fans, which the FRF marchers had brought, actually lent a festive atmosphere to the day.
Adding to the joyful mood was a wonderful jazz band that followed the FRF marchers. For a stretch of time, the marchers danced as they called for clean energy, to ban fossil fuels, and especially, to ban fracking and the dangerous trains and polluting pipelines that carry the gas and oil out of the fields to market and to export.
The march terminated at the green field in front of Independence Hall. There, speakers addressed the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible, the dangers related to fracking, and the high risks associated with oil trains and pipelines. Frequent and related themes were poverty, hunger, and inequality, all of which are made worse by climate change. The rally ended with the unfolding of a giant yellow “sun” to illustrate the importance of solar power in leading the clean energy revolution.
Along with other calls this summer for changes in the political status quo of the country, I believe the National March for Clean Energy was another example of forces waking up and mobilizing to change energy policies.
Shortly after Pope Francis’s encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” was published last year, the St. Mary’s Social Justice Ministry sponsored an evening in October focusing on the content of the encyclical. Pope Francis was very clear that serious steps must be taken to address the fact that, as he wrote, “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” He also wrote, “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels . . . needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” The Laudato Si program will be presented next at St. Anthony’s Parish in Butler, N.J., on Oct. 12.
Anyone interested in learning more about current and future plans of the FRF at St. Mary’s is asked to regularly visit www.EarthActions.org.
— Jackie Schramm is director of social justice ministry at St. Mary’s Parish. She can be reached at email@example.com.
- “New Jersey Parish Launches New Website About Environment” — Sept. 29, 2015, HNP Today
- “Ministries Celebrate ‘Laudato Si’” — July 8, 2015, HNP Today