Blue and yellow paint have dominated the courtyard of the Greenpeace Warehouse in Oakland every Sunday since January 25, when community members started to meet to do art with a very specific purpose. They have been painting signs, flags, building banners, puppets and huge posters to display during the “March for real climate change leadership,” which will take place on February 7, starting from Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland and moving along Lake Merritt.
The March for Real Climate Leadership is being organized by a broad coalition of more than a hundred groups across California, such as Greenpeace, The Oakland Institute and 350.org.
Thousands of people are expected to join the rally, said carpenter and activist David Solnit, who organized the sign-making. Almost a year ago, in March of 2014, people from all over California marched in Sacramento with the same goal, to demand Governor Jerry Brown ban fracking.
Brown “ignored us” back then, said Solnit. Now the activists have decided to bring the message to the city where Brown served two terms as mayor.
The event’s website describes fracking as a “method of oil and gas production that involves blasting millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth.” Fracking breaks up rock formations to extract oil and gas, but it can also pollute local air and water and put human health at risk, it adds. Activists are demanding the governor to be a “real” climate leader—as the name of the march puts it—by not allowing the oil and gas industry to expand in the state.
The rally will go through downtown Oakland, including passing where Governor Brown used to live, and along Lake Merritt—“an example of environmental protection (as the designated Wildlife Refuge in the country), and a beautiful testament to the importance of water,” states the website.
The march will end at the new Lake Merritt Amphitheater, on the south of the lake, where a bicycle-powered stage will be waiting for the marchers. There will be music and a program featuring community leaders from across California.
Organizers are asking the people going to the march to “wear blue and make signs, banners, t-shirts and other visuals blue with yellow as a secondary color, so the march will be like mighty surging river the color of water with speckled sunlight,” according to the event’s website. Attendees are also encouraged to bring musical instruments, fruit, water and, of course, walking shoes.
Solnit said that although not everyone helping for the march calls himself or herself an artist, the idea behind the sign-making is that “ordinary people can express themselves” and “create culture.”
What messages are these ordinary people expressing? “Stop fracking,” “End fossil fuel,” and “100% renewable energy” are some of the slogans on the signs and banners.
“Our water, our health, our California” is the slogan of the march. The phrase can be read on a 22 x 12 foot image designed by printmaker and digital artist based in Oakland, Favianna Rodríguez. On Sunday, she and about a dozen other people were busy finishing it up by painting the poster, which was based on an original design. After six hours of painting barefoot, the enormous sign came to life. It shows a woman of color holding her son in her arms; a house and the Earth.
Rodríguez said that she wanted to convey the idea that people of color, who live in regions of the world likely to be affected by climate change, like Cuba or the Philippines, are the most vulnerable to it, not white men, who are largely in charge of making global environmental and political decisions. She chose a woman of color and her son to represent “the groups that don’t have a voice” in an international concert dominated by men from “the most powerful countries.”
The boy depicts the idea that climate change will affect future generations, and the house means, “we only have one home, the planet,” said Rodríguez. The image of the world signifies that “changes have to start in a local level to have a global impact,” she added.
Like Solnit, who was key to gather several artists for the march’s art, Rodríguez believes in the power of art in the context of activism. “Art helps you see the future,” she said.
Organizers are also encouraging people who will attend the march to build their own “pieces of solution,” blue signs in the shape of a puzzle piece. (There’s a DIY guide online.) The idea is that students and other community members can paint, draw or write their ideas for a solution to fracking and climate change. These pieces will be addressed to Brown, and the organizers promise on the website that they will “creatively deliver” them to the governor.
The final art build will be on Wednesday, February 4, and those who are interested in joining can look on the event’s Facebook page for more details.
On Saturday, marchers will meet at 11:30 am at Frank Ogawa Plaza (14th and Broadway) and there will be a welcome and orientation at noon before the march begins. More information about the rally’s logistics can be found here.