Last Saturday, seven other Knox students and I took the bus out to New York for the People’s Climate March. We carried a sheet decorated with our college’s name, a sun and an Earth. Standing in the middle of the street, surrounded by crowds from all over the U.S., we got a text on our phones. We all raised our hands above our heads, in silence for the victims of climate destruction thus far. Far behind us, a lone whistle kept hooting. Then, silence.
Before we knew what it was, a slow rush of noise rose from behind. It grew into a roar, a wave of noise, that rolled thunderously down the street and then broke on our shoulders. We were screaming too, in the middle of it, as it caught through the whole march. I laughed in awe as I looked around. I could feel the power.
We later joined the youth contingent of the March. College students from all across the country, many of whom I knew from our work together, were stepping forward with a new kind of energy. I knew that our power came from our radicalness, from our understanding of the root causes of climate destruction, and from our courage to look it in the face and fight for a just world instead.
Around 400,000 marched in New York that weekend, in a huge show of the strength our movement has gained. The March was an energy point for organizers who have dedicated themselves to the fight, from the Maypop Collective in Philadelphia to Movement Generation in California, and spearheaded by the leadership of communities on the front lines of the extractive economy, to return to our struggle on the ground with new strength.
What is our struggle? Key to the radicalness of the student contingent at the march was an understanding that climate destruction, which threatens all we know, is not an accident, a technical error we need to fix by just switching our energy sources. It is an outgrowth of an exploitative economy that manipulates all it can for profit. The U.S. is controlled by a ruling class, the 0.1 percent, that profits from the sacrifice of our communities: Latino communities living near toxic coal plants, black communities decimated by the criminal injustice system, frontline communities in the Third World torn apart by storms and structural adjustment. Even though the machinery of this economy isn’t in our hands, we at Knox also profit from this destruction, through institutional privilege and our industrial investments. The ruling class on Wall Steet survives by keeping us divided, but at the People’s Climate March we came together to say that we will NOT be divided. We will build the power necessary to take back control of our future and build a democracy in this country.
At the march, I saw many signs proclaiming the jointness of our struggle: “Racial Justice is Climate Justice,” “Number of U.S. Jailed and Average Global Temperature, Both Rising,” “No Climate Justice Without Women’s Liberation.” But there are clear roadblocks to building the intersectional movement we really need. The march was open to co-optation by corporate interests. There were many signs that reflected the more toothless framing of climate change, focused not on the stories of people but on the math of carbon. Many people proclaimed “Go Vegan, Save the Earth!” I’ve been vegan for years, but eating less meat will be a consequence of the change we need, not a cause of it. The only lifestyle choice that will be a cause of change is that of organized leadership for justice: social, economic and ecological justice, all together.
It is this work that led to and was strengthened by the march. We came back to our campuses and our homes renewed as organizers and knowing that we can build the power toward what we seek: a world that works for everyone, not one divided by race, gender and class privileges. A world based on values of life, love and democracy, where our grandchildren can continue this work, if they choose.