Students travel to New York for People’s Climate March

Williams students hold up signs to protest energy policies at the People’s Climate March in New York City. Brianna Rettig/Contributing Photographer
Williams students hold up signs to protest energy policies at the People’s Climate March in New York City. Brianna Rettig/Contributing Photographer

On Sunday, a group of students, faculty and staff traveled to New York City to participate in the People’s Climate March.

Over 80 students from the College, as well as nine faculty and staff members and several alumni, joined more than 400,000 people from across the nation in the largest climate march in history. The march came just days before world leaders, including President Barack Obama, gathered to discuss climate change at yesterday’s UN Climate Summit.

The march began at mid-morning at Columbus Circle, near Central Park, and continued for more than four miles downtown. Protestors carried signs and played live music until 4:30 p.m. In addition to the march in New York City, there were 2808 solidarity marches held in 166 countries around the world.

The contingent from the College gathered with other colleges and universities in the five-block zone designated for students, near the front of the march.

The Williams Environmental Council (WEC) organized the College’s participation in the event. Funding for the event came from the Center for Environmental Studies, the Davis Center, the Department of Africana Studies, College Council and the Chaplain’s Office. In order to plan the event and reserve transportation, the WEC collaborated with Assistant Director of the Davis Center, justin adkins, Professor Shanti Singham from the Africana Studies Department and Sarah Gardner, associate director of the Center for Environmental Studies.

Planning for the event officially began in the summer, when Singham and Gardner reserved the five vans that transported students to the train station; however, enthusiasm for the event started as far back as last spring. The WEC leaders led the effort upon their return to campus this fall.

According to Molly Pickel ’15, WEC Treasurer, the WEC’s desire to involve students in the protest stemmed in part from last spring’s efforts to reduce the College’s carbon emissions. The WEC, then called the Thursday Night Grassroots, spearheaded a movement on campus for the College to adopt a lower carbon emissions target, including a petition that got 1000 signatures.

The WEC’s goal for the 2014-15 academic year is to continue the push for a college emissions reduction policy. They hope to use the momentum of the march as a catalyst for environmental action at the College and to “bring some of the activism that students are displaying here back to campus,” according to Pickel. 

The student turnout surpassed expectations, and after the wait list for the five vans grew significantly, the WEC organized several cars to take more students. According to Gardner, the long waiting list showed “huge student concern about climate change … It’s not easy to take off from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. on a Sunday during the semester. WEC is clearly a force to be reckoned with.”

A couple of students, including Miles Horton ’15, went to New York City on the Saturday before the march for Youth Conference, hosted by 350.org, a global, bottom-up climate movement. After hearing from people around the world whose lives have been directly affected by climate change, Horton had the opportunity to talk about environmental issues with students from other schools, especially on the issue of divestment from fossil fuels, which he is planning to push for on campus this year.

Many of the students who marched were first-years, which Singham said is a positive sign for environmental activism on campus this year. “That means the issue is not going away,” Singham said. “That means we have four years of environmental activism to look forward to … The first-years were fired-up and seemed to want to step up and get more involved. I could see the next generation of leaders coming out of this.”