Obscenely early on Sunday morning I joined eleven sleepy Deacons in a van headed to the Forward on Climate rally in Washington, DC.
Five and a half hours later we arrived at a DC Metro station and boarded a train bound for the National Mall where our meager dozen joined the nearly 40,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument. It wasn’t until we were on the train that I began to get a sense of what we were about to experience. Each stop added more to our number. At our final stop, amidst a train-car full of folks undoubtedly headed to the rally, I heard a woman explain to her six year old, “This is where all the tree-huggers get off.” For this comment, I felt both sharp resentment and heartfelt pride.
It wasn’t long after our small stream of supporters meandered out of the station towards Constitution Avenue that we were swept up in a river of ralliers headed to the National Mall. It was more than I could have imagined – costumes, huge signs, hand-held wind turbines, and clever chants. The crowds began to fill the space between the Washington Monument and Constitution Ave.
The march was preceded by a number of speakers. These speakers shared not volumes of data, charts, mathematical models for current and projected carbon emissions, but stories. Caleb Pusey, another divinity student present remarked, “For the first time, I recognized that the environmental movement in our country has finally stopped beating people over the head with scientific evidence and learned to tell stories of suffering and hope.”
For too long we have believed that if people would only hear the numbers, if they understood the science, then they would not only be convinced, but they would change their lives and the world. I think the environmental movement is beginning to see that this is not necessarily the case. Sometimes we need to be reminded that people are suffering. Climate change it is not simply a concept to be explored, but a reality that has actual consequences in our everyday lives and some people are dying for it. But, we also need to hear and learn to tell stories of hope, courage, bravery, and redemption.
The march began slowly as we crept down Constitution Ave. But, with each step the energy grew. Chanting and singing energized the crowd. I was particularly intent on reading every sign I could get my eyes on. They were funny, witty, grave, and thoughtful. The signs portrayed a wide spectrum of issues from fracking, to mountaintop removal, solar and wind energy advocacy, the Keystone pipeline, human rights, and many more. Holding these signs were amazingly diverse people – black, red, rich, young, yellow, dreadlocked, gay, white, brown, old, handicapped, bearded, straight, and poor. It was a powerful reminder that this is an issue that affects everyone, though some are more harshly affected. The health of our air, water, and soil is something that no one can outrun.
I was also reminded that everyone has a part to play. This was obvious not only in the 40,000 people marching around the White House, but also in our little group from Wake Forest University. Some were content with simply being present. Some couldn’t imagine passing up the opportunity to dance in the mobile drum circle while others took a wide birth around it. For some it was not enough to participate in the chants − they were moved to lead them. We each found our different niche. Reflecting on these distinct means of involvement leads us to larger questions of ideology, reform or revolt, cooperation or insurrection, grassroots or top-down.
And so it is for the entirety of the environmental movement. Everyone has his or her favorite issue and we bring a unique set of skills, desires, and experiences with us. While this movement has leaders and voices that draw a larger audience than others, no one owns this movement, no one at Sierra Club, 350.org, or Wake Forest. Movements that create lasting change employ a wide range of tactics, strategies, and approaches. They articulate scientific, economic, sociological, and political points of view. They have conversations with co-workers at lunch, email members of congress, and march in the streets. They embody a diversity of ideas, opinions, and people.
On the train ride back to the van, I couldn’t help but think of the woman who identified the tree-huggers for her six year old. Neither she nor I realized that there were way more people on our train headed to the rally than we would have ever guessed. So, whether you are a quiet marcher avoiding the drum circles or a costume-wearing-sign-hoisting-chant-leading-enthusiast, there is a place for you in this movement. Bring your skills, bring your passion, bring your story, bring your voice, and save the Earth.
By Jamie Sims, Wake Forest Divinity School, Class of 2013