HWS students and staff were among thousands of activists from hundreds of environmental, social justice and community groups who marched on Washington recently in the biggest climate rally ever held in the U.S. capital. Activists both called on President Barack Obama to make good on his climate change policy promises and protested the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which would deliver tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
First years Maxwell Gorton, Mason Otero, Oriana Schneps, Mallory McAninch, Victoria Haynes, John Kuebler, and Alice Theibault, as well as Adam Maurer, project manager of the Sustainable Community Development Program at the Finger Lakes Institute and Jeremy Wattles, assistant director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning, were among the 40,000 activists who descended on Washington, D.C., for the “Forward on Climate” rally and protest.
Several students found out about the rally through Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Joel Helfrich’s “Radical Environmentalism” class, and the group traveled to Washington, D.C. and back in 24 hours. “Our carpool met our group on Pulteney Street at 2:45 a.m.; I must admit there is a special thrill one receives when you are about to travel six hours with complete strangers,” says Gorton. “In Professor Helfrich’s class we are reading Edward Abbey’s book, “The Monkey Wrench Gang” and there is a section that breeds a similar situation-complete strangers unite to take direct action on saving the environment, for the greater good.”
Schneps agrees. “I was surrounded by thousands of people all devoted to the same cause; I was a part of a whole and motivated by the energy of everyone,” she says. “It felt like I was taking charge of my life.”
Along with denying the Keystone pipeline’s permit, organizers 350.org, Sierra Club and the Hip-Hop Caucus hoped the rally would force the president to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transition to renewable energy. “As an environmentalist, I am concerned about climate change,” says Maurer. “It was important for me to lend my voice to this cause.”
The tone of the rally was both positive and uplifting, says Theibault, who plans to attend future environmental rallies. “People of all ages and ethnicities came together on a pressing issue; the rally broke down barriers.”
“The assortment of people at the rally protesting the Keystone XL pipeline was unbelievable, every age and race gathered together to support this cause,” says Haynes. “Going to an event like this with people all around you chanting, singing, dancing, and swinging handmade signs really inspires you to want to make and change and gives you hope that you really can.”