Integral to all great American movements is the physical congregation of people who strive for change. The People’s Climate March in New York City this past Sunday was the largest march for climate justice to date, bringing together more than 400,000 people.
When clicktivism, the use of social media for social change and activism, can dominate our news feeds and when apathy is so often used to describe our generation, the People’s Climate March offered hope for the future of activism and climate justice.
Although the progress of United Nations discussions on global warming, the event that marchers hoped to influence, appears bleak, many marchers felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment from the mere scope of the march itself. What was first annoyance at my inability to march forward because of the large amount of people around me soon turned into joy upon realizing that such a large mass of protesters had assembled.
The People’s Climate March proved that climate justice is hardly an issue reserved for neoliberal, granola-eating hippies, but an issue for everyone. As I walked the 25 blocks of the march, I didn’t just find other college contingencies. I found senior citizens, some of whom were in wheelchairs, children, groups of Native Americans, a mass of socialists wearing only black, employees of corporations, scientists donning lab coats, Leonardo DiCaprio and so many other diverse groups of people.
At the march I met up with many friends who had travelled from places as far away as Michigan, Mississippi and California. Given the diversity of groups at the march, perspectives on how to move forward on climate issues were far from similar, but that didn’t seem to matter. Everyone felt compelled to be part of something that could bring about climate justice no matter what it was.
Perhaps the most exciting moment for me during the march was seeing a classmate from my high school whom I hadn’t known was coming. For the majority of students at my high school, climate change wasn’t a real concern. As captain of my high school’s Envirothon Team, I was among the nerdy few who got excited about new recycling bins. Seeing my classmate, Jacqui, at the march, someone who showed no sign of interest in the environment during high school, made me realize how mainstream the climate movement has become to the American people.
Ascertaining the value of one’s own presence in a protest or march is difficult. The march still would have happened and would have been as successful without me, as is true for everyone else at the march at an individual level. But protests become successful when protesters feel such a connection to the cause that, regardless of the level of their impact, they feel they must be part of it. Most of the marchers present last Sunday weren’t marching for U.N. climate discussions as much as they were marching for themselves. We owed it to ourselves and to the values that we hold for the earth to be a part of the historic event.
As I look out onto the Georgetown community, I don’t necessarily see activists. I don’t necessarily see students holding themselves to their beliefs and pushing themselves to advocate for change to see that their world one day becomes closer to the vision they have for it. It would be unfair to say that Georgetown’s campus isn’t rife with students eager to pursue their passions and defend their beliefs, but this is far from everyone.
Activism isn’t simply painting signs, yelling at big buildings and echoing sentiments of needing to “defeat the system.”
Every day we are forced to face choices of what is right and what is convenient. Are you going to carry your reusable coffee mug to get coffee or get a paper cup once you get there? Do you take the extra second to turn off your lights before you leave the room? Do you buy new clothes because you need them and because you’re going to wear them or because they just look cool?
We don’t have to participate in national protests to be activists. We do need to become conscious of our actions, become conscious of how these actions affect others, and be reflective about how our actions may or may not align with the hopes we have for the future of this earth.
I challenge and exhort the student body of Georgetown to reflect on their beliefs and act upon them accordingly; I suspect our campus might be a different place because of it.
Patrick Drown is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.