“Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like.”
On April 29th in Washington, DC and numerous other cities around the country, people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities gathered for the People’s Climate March. The first People’s Climate Movement organized in late September 2014 in New York City and was designed as a response to the Climate Summit, which took place 2 days later. This year’s People’s Climate March was scheduled to coincide with Trump’s 100th day in office.
Back in January, we felt overwhelmed, recognizing the instability of our planet (its people and climate) and the uncertainty of present and future climate and environmental policy. As a result, we decided to channel these concerns and facilitate a group of Dartmouth students to travel to DC for the march in late April. It was an immense learning opportunity to coordinate travel arrangements and students, all while fitting into the larger picture of the People’s Climate March events. Throughout the process, we were able to meet students who had never engaged in sustainability at Dartmouth, which was hugely inspiring and rewarding.
Throughout the march, we experienced positive energy from the people around us. People were always starting and joining in new chants as we moved through DC. When we spoke with one of the Dartmouth students who attended the march, he stated that one of the most representative chants was one about the foundations of democracy. Quite literally, democracy entails people defending what they believe in and stand for. As we grow more self-aware and develop our personal values, we are learning to embrace our civic responsibilities. Most importantly, we are learning to engage in a spectrum of activism through our education, our interactions with others, and our work in the Dartmouth community and beyond.
Following the march, several students reflected on their experiences, often stating that they were inspired by the crowds, signs, chants, and energy. However, almost every student expressed some frustration with the functionality of the protest itself. One student stated that it “...doesn't directly stop any form of environmental destruction, but rather, just makes the movement visible and the cause hopefully more motivating to those who are uncertain or on the other side of the issue…” We echo this sentiment and believe that organized protests rightly have a place within the spectrum of activism, but more concrete action is indeed necessary for effecting change.
We can’t only protest; we can’t only conduct research; we can’t only study these issues in a classroom; we can’t only do insular activities or have conversations within the sustainability community. Rather, we need a combination of all types of advocacy, and especially outreach that makes these issues relevant for each individual. As we reflected on the term “activism,” which can sound intimidating depending on one’s image of activism, we realized that being an activist simply means wanting to bring about political or social change. As two Environmental Studies majors, an interest in pursuing Environmental Studies inherently involves an interest in creating this type of change, and equipping ourselves to be agents of change.
In our own reflection of this event, we may be left with more questions unanswered than concerns resolved. Already in less than 1 year of the current administration, environmental agencies and policies have been adversely impacted (shameless plug: call your senators!). There is reason to be hopeful, however, especially considering the volume and strength of local and institutional actions in response to the US position on the Paris Climate agreements. Even Dartmouth has recently signed a letter in support of the Paris agreements and has committed to a Sustainability Plan named “Our Green Future” in order to reduce the environmental impact of a variety of campus operations. Grassroots activism and action are undoubtedly becoming more important agents of change in a time when federal level efforts are nonexistent or deleterious. Moving forward, we’re committing to engaging with others to learn more about their motivations, embracing opportunities to participate in civic action, and continuing to pursue our passions as students and future leaders in environmental studies and related issues.