Bill McKibben stated that all the work he has done for the last twenty-five years has been in anticipation of the moment when the climate movement would take off. It seems this moment was Sunday afternoon, when 50,000 supporters, after traveling to Washington D.C., gathered to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Approximately thirty UNH students, myself included, made the trip Saturday in order to be prepared for Sunday morning’s events. Up bright and early at 6 am, we left the church we had slept in and eventually headed to the Greenpeace Student Network Convergence. The speakers, who had come from North Carolina, Texas, and all over, were inspiring. Their stories encouraged us and excited us, giving us renewed energy for the long day ahead.
The rally began at noon at the Washington Monument. Our group was immersed in a sea of diverse people with a common purpose. Surrounded and short, I couldn’t perceive the expanding of the crowd, and was unaware of the amount of people until the emcee Rev. Lennox Yearwood called out the growing tally, “35,000”… “40,000”… and finally “50,000.”
The speakers at the rally were as diverse as the crowd. Bill McKibben was one of the earlier speakers, and in his usual fashion, his speech was short but meaningful and hopeful that this rally represented the awakening of the people. Among others were Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations. Both spoke of the suffering in their tribes that resulted from oil infrastructure imposed on their land, which polluted their natural resources and lead to serious health issues like an increase in cancer cases. Both women re-framed the human relationship with nature, referring to it as our mother, who was striking back after our mistreatment. It is always amazing to hear stories of the implications of climate change and fossil fuel use for different groups. Many of these stories are hidden from the public eye, and describe interactions with climate change that may be very different from those of a bunch of students from New Hampshire. It is essential for us to internalize the whole spectrum of influenced communities.
After the final speaker, the march to the White House began. We saw the mass of the crowd stretch out before us into a line; when fully expanded, those at the back of the march had just left the monument while those at the front were reaching the end. As we walked, we saw all ages from children through old men and women, which was refreshing; on a college campus the age of involvement and interaction in the climate discussion is concentrated to a smaller range. We saw farmers whose well water had been irreparably polluted by fracking next to parents fighting for the futures of their children. There was chanting and music and even the occasional sporadic dancing. Despite the seriousness of the issue (and the biting cold), the mood was cheerful and the protest was peaceful. As we reached the White House there was no climbing of the fence; the only complaint was that we lingered too long on the sidewalk as we called to gather our group to begin the trip back to New Hampshire.
UNH students were able to take part in the biggest climate-related protest in history. The feeling of unity and empowerment was stronger than I have ever experienced. 50,000 people is no small number, and for it to be ignored would call into question the integrity of the democratic process our country claims to uphold. I am hopeful that this event represents a shifting of values in the public sphere, and that it will be catalyst needed for change at the institutional level.Written by Megan.