Organizers say as many as 100,000 people could be marching through New York City on Sunday, and businesses along the marching route have no idea they're coming.
The People's Climate March, a protest to demand action on climate change, will bring together over 1,000 organizations, groups from 300 colleges, and 479 buses full of activists from across the country in what organizers are calling "the biggest climate march in history."
Marchers will assemble at 11:30 a.m. on the Upper West Side between 86th and 59th streets, making their way down to 42nd Street and through Times Square - they wanted to walk through the square but couldn't due to construction - and west to the Hudson River.
"We've been negotiating with the NYPD on the route since May," Paul Getsos, the National Coordinator of the People's Climate March told The Wire. "We wanted to march where the windows of the world would be on us," Getsos added.
Despite months of negotiation over the specific route, Leslie Cagan, Logistics Coordinator of the People's Climate March, said that organizers did not alert local businesses about the event. The New York Police Department has not returned multiple requests for comment.
The Wire reached out to 20 businesses on the route, all of which confirmed they had not been told by the People's Climate Movement or the NYPD about Sunday's event.
"No.. I haven't heard, I had no idea," said Nick, an employee at Theater Row Diner. "I'm sure that many people would affect us though" he added. "When we deal with crowds during the 4th of July fireworks we try to have a few extra people on hand."
Despite wishing they had bulked up a bit on their usual Sunday afternoon staffs, many reiterated that they would be ready to handle the massive influx of people.
"I didn't know about about the march until now," said Jean Claude Baker, the owner of Chez Josephine, a restaurant on the route. "We are happy to welcome everybody," he added. "I've been in business for 28 years and there isn't anything I haven't seen."
"We'll deal with whatever comes our way, said an employee of Columbus Circle Wines, just off the marching route. "In New York, a lot of people isn't a problem for retailers."
Whether they're ready or not, the marchers are coming, and it's not just the tens of thousands of people they'll have to contend with. The event will also feature a number of giant movable art installations, such as a 30-foot inflatable life preserver to honor Hurricane Sandy victims; a massive man-made tree adorned with thousands of ribbons; a 300-foot-long banner that reads "Capitalism = Climate Chaos - Flood Wall Street"; and a large recreation of Noah's ark, which is being hauled into Manhattan this weekend on a flatbed truck.
Despite the size and scope of this weekend's march, Getsos stressed the protests aren't just about theatrics or large crowds. "It's about who's in the streets."
Unlike many previous climate movements, participants include groups who are not typically associated with environmentalism, but are concerned about how the issue will affect humans in the future. These include labor unions and faith leaders, as well as social justice groups who have stressed the disproportionate economic impact that climate change is already having on poor communities across the globe.
"What's important is that we're working to create a diverse network that can hold our elected officials and global leaders responsible to take action," Getsos said.
Activists are marching as 120 heads of state — including U.S. President Barack Obama — prepare to meet in New York next week for the United Nations Climate Summit, where the conversation will focus on ways to deal with climate change on a global level. Just this week U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that he would be one of the tens of thousands taking part in the march and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York has urged the city's Catholic community to do the same.
"The world we live in, all of creation, is a gift from God and a great sign of His love for us," Dolan wrote. "It would be wonderful if there were a strong Catholic presence at the march, to indicate our prayerful support of God’s creation," he continued.
Protesters are coming from across the country and around the world to join in on the event. There are even two "Climate Trains" that have traveled from California to New York, making stops along the way to pick up green riders in Denver, Chicago, Reno, and Omaha. While on board, "concerned citizens" — which included a group of Buddhist Nuns — have taken part in climate seminars, information sessions, meet and greets, and other similar events.
In addition to this weekend's march, there will be hundreds of events ranging from seminars to family activities to documentary screenings to faith meetings. Meanwhile, foreign activists are participating in their own climate-related events to coincide with the New York gathering. London is expecting over 10,000 activists to march through the city on Sunday. On Saturday, residents of Berlin will try to set the new world record for the longest plastic bag chain in history, to bring awareness to the effect of plastic on the environment. Similar events will be held in Delhi, Jakarta, and Rio de Janeiro.
To become the largest march in history, the People's Climate March will have to surpass the nearly 100,000 people that attended "The Flood" in 2009, a rally in Copenhagen, which was similarly timed to coincide with a U.N. Climate Summit.
Whether or not they achieve that goal remains to be seen, but for unsuspecting New York businesses, citizens, and tourists, tens of thousands of people marching down 42nd Street on a Sunday afternoon will certainly be hard to ignore.