You can’t count a crowd like the one that poured into New York City last Sunday. There were 310,000; 400,000; maybe more. The media can’t decide, but vision matters more than numbers anyway. I traveled to the march with an energized group of Williams students. We pushed through the crowds together, singing and shouting and chatting with strangers. It was like one big party, but it was one big party fueled by love and discontent. Those emotions fit together better than you’d think.
Buses of protesters came in from across the country. I walked behind a group from Tuscaloosa that shouted “roll tide!” joyfully along the streets. Beekeepers from New Jersey walked beside college students from Maine and organic farmers from Vermont. I saw Muslim groups, meditators, church groups, “Grandparents against Global Warming” and bare-chested women laughing in Columbus Circle. Williams students sang “The Mountains” between groups from Oberlin and Antioch.
The crowd’s power lies in this diversity. Representatives from groups most affected by climate change led the masses down the glassy streets of our country’s largest city. This included victims of hurricanes, which should hit close to home for everyone in Williamstown, and crowds of indigenous people demonstrated that marginalized voices are essential to this movement. The media doesn’t tell this story, of course: most reporting lists the celebrities who marched through the city. We don’t need more stories about millionaires parading through Manhattan. Climate change affects the underprivileged most and theirs are the faces of this movement.
The marchers made a pilgrimage of sorts to New York City, and though that pilgrimage relied on fossil fuels, that fact doesn’t negate our mission. Many people travel for far more trivial reasons. Traveling to the city refueled our individual drive for change. That’s what it’s all about. Here’s the corresponding reality, though: the People’s Climate March won’t change anything unless we translate its ideals to concrete daily action.
We hope that our actions will push yesterday’s summit toward policies to reduce carbon emissions, but it’s naive to pin all our hopes on bureaucracy within a flawed system. The march can only change the world if it inspires deep and permanent change within each of us that contributes to cultural change. Climate change is omnipresent and continuous, and it’s not enough to walk a few miles with a sign. We must challenge the systems of injustice around us, and that’s a lifelong protest. We can’t just sign up for a daytrip to the city; we have to sign up for the long haul.
There’s a real tension between what we understand and what we do. We understand climate change, but our culture, society and economic system push us along one-way street toward climate destruction. Challenge those systems through your lifestyle. I present seven concrete challenges to Williams, but they all fall under one blanket challenge: get uncomfortable. Environmental issues and social issues are inextricable. Recognize this and get so uncomfortable that you’re not willing to sit around anymore. We’re supposed to educate ourselves at this prestigious school, but we don’t need education that makes us feel good about our flawed society. We can’t afford complacency.
Here are challenges for the Williams marchers and the wider Williams community to undertake if they are able:
1. Get involved and stay involved. There are so many campus groups that challenge the status quo: Williams Environmental Council, Real Foods, Sustainable Growers, Amnesty, Lehman, Students for Justice in Palestine, Interfaith, Williams Recovery of All Perishable Surplus, many Minority Coalition groups and more. What could be more important?
2. Know what you’re eating, do your research. If it’s unethical, don’t eat it. Boycotting has a concrete impact.
3. The same applies to other goods. Boycott businesses and corporations that don’t adhere to your ethical standards, be conscientious about transportation. Limit your own carbon footprint and live the message on those signs we carried.
4. Understand your privilege. If you can make the decision to boycott, you’re more privileged than most people in this world. Recognize that and don’t shame those who lack the resources to make the same choices.
5. Question why you’re here. Ask yourself every single day what you’re doing at Williams. Ask yourself every single day about the harmful systems on this campus and in this town. Do you know what happened at the Spruces? Do you understand how racism, classism and sexism affect our school? Love Williams and the surrounding community, but love it by challenging it. We need more protests around here.
6. Open your mouth. Mumbling about our “post-racial society” isn’t acceptable. Yik Yak hate speech isn’t acceptable. Casual classism isn’t acceptable. Let everyone know.
7. Challenge your own moral code. Try to develop a land ethic, push back against conceptions of success and try to be better than the systems of our time.
I challenge you to bring the march home. This weekend, 76 students traveled to New York City. Among us, we certainly know the entire student body. Share your newfound energy and challenge your peers. Williams College is too non-confrontational. I challenge you to be confrontational; the People’s Climate March means nothing if you don’t. If you believe in its ideology, live it. When I woke up this morning, I had a chant from the march stuck in my head: “Hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go.” I want to hear that chant echoing through our daily lives. Be loving and be loud.
Abigail Rampone ’17 is from Castleton, Vt. She lives in East.