Goucher Energy Action Revolution (GEAR) brought nearly 40 students to Washington, DC’s Forward on Climate Rally, hosted by the Sierra Club, 350.org, and the Hip Hop Caucus, on February 17. Organizers hoped to host the largest climate rally in US history, and the campaign succeeded with estimates ranging from 35,000 to 50,000 protesters, more than double the attendance at previous climate change rallies.
A series of speeches, opened and emceed by the Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, kicked off the cold day, and featured words from first nation leaders such as Chief Jacqueline Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Creek Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada. Both women spoke about the effects of the Keystone XL Pipeline–the rejection of which was a major focus of the rally–on their homes, families, and neighbors. “I abide by natural law,” Lameman said, “and there is nothing natural about a people dying from cancer.”
The crowd also heard from politicians, investors, and actors alike as the speeches continued, including Van Jones, the former Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise, and Innovation to the Obama administration; Bill McKibben of 350.org; Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI); Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune; and actress Rosario Dawson, among others.
Van Jones and Reverend Yearwood spoke particularly sobering and impassioned words, with Yearwood emphasizing the rally’s historical importance by likening the rally to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. “This rally, 50 years later,” he said, “is as important–or more important–as that rally then because while they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.”
Jones, on the other hand, directly addressed President Obama, saying, “All the good that you have done, all the good you can imagine doing, will be wiped out–wiped out by floods, by fires, by superstorms–if you fail to act now, to deal with this crisis that is a gun–a gun–pointed at the head of the future.” After this, Jones called on the next generation to “stop being chumps” and become more active in the determination of their futures.
Those from Goucher who were in attendance agreed with the organizers from GEAR already knowing well what it means to be active in the environmental movement. After attending previous rallies, several students were planning to drive to the rally when they realized “we all need to go to the rally!” When the group realized that there were more Goucher community members interested in attending, the decision to organize and charter a bus came easily.
“In our first meetings we had some people who had just joined GEAR who we knew before but had just suddenly said, ‘I have to do something for this cause!’ and came with so much passion,” said Delaney Green ‘14. Sara Peyser ‘13 added that bringing so many Goucher students to the rally was a great start to the semester. “Having this kickoff event at the beginning of the semester was really key to helping GEAR and helping the environmental movements on campus,” she said.
Green and Peyser, along with fellow GEAR and environmental coalition leaders Eric Sargent ‘15 and Chelsea Griffin ‘14, were impressed by the mass of people in attendance at the rally, as most that they have attended in the past have reached 10,000 or 12,000 participants, usually students.
Griffin noted that rallies can be inclusive movements, especially in realizing common interests with fellow Goucher students. Sargent added, “it’s like a group building activity, like a huge party that’s also educational where you have a good time and get inspired by and meet new people.” Some of the Goucher students had already begun this by crafting posters, banners, and even a puppet, which everyone agreed was popular throughout the rally, and Sargent mentioned that he was excited by the positive energy on the return bus trip to Goucher.
Goucher students at the rally had differing perspectives of the energy at Forward on Climate, with some observing high levels of energy and others noticing a lull in energy as compared to previous years. Green referred to a rally that took place in 2011 after the Power Shift conference, with about 10,000 participants made up of almost entirely students, that she thought naturally had more energy. However, she said, “Even though this one was lower energy, given the temperature–which was atrocious–and the fact that there were a lot of people there who were older than 50, it was high energy.”
The goal of the rally, too, was to improve attendance and Goucher students were impressed. From the Sierra Club’s communications with the White House, they knew that what President Obama and his administration hoped to see was a visible increase in participation.
“Although it wasn’t necessarily high energy, there were so many people there that it was such a diverse group of people,” said Sargent, adding that he had noticed children and toddlers braving the cold. Griffin added that the selection of speakers helped add to this diversity.
In thinking about the future and Van Jones’ insistence that the next generation “stop being chumps,” the members of GEAR are sure that the rally helped to move the environmental movement forward and that the students’ involvement helped to do that for the Goucher community in particular.
Said Peyser, “It definitely helped to let everyone know that these are things we’re committed to and that we’re a strong group.”
Green added that while it’s easy to become impassioned and motivated by something that one sees as wrong and impending, “it’s also important to have that sense of celebration. This movement is really strong in the student population but it does need to network with other corresponding movements and the rally was incredibly important because it was a way to get everybody who cares about this issue on the same page.”
Although Green lamented that Goucher’s reputation as an environmentally focused school has been lost in some ways, the school has recently been recognized by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) as being the most active school in the area. “We’re willing to put the effort into getting students to the places to protest,” she said.
While GEAR will continue to attend protests and rallies to push the environmental and climate movement forward, they hope decisions will be made that quiet the need for such events. In the community, they will continue organizing speaking events, including two this semester with the Beehive Collective and Keepers of the Mountains, and they hope to collaborate with other organizations, in addition to some further plans that will be revealed later in the semester.