On Sunday, Sept. 21, over 80 Vassar students, alumnae/i and professors joined the crowd of 400,000 who participated in the People’s Climate March in New York City.
The protesters marched two miles through Manhattan, from the Upper West Side to the United Nations building, where representatives will hold the Climate Summit this week. The conference will mark the first time the U.N. has discussed climate change in the last five years.
While making it into a Buzzfeed article may be the ultimate millennial dream, having their photograph appear in the website’s piece “Here’s Why People Participated In The People’s Climate March In New York City” was only a perk for the Vassar students who participated in what has been deemed the largest climate march in history.
“I heard estimates of 100,000 people showing up, which seemed impressive at the time, but the fact that 400,000 people showed up and it became the largest climate march in history, was amazing and somewhat surprising,” wrote Emily Lavieri-Scull ’15 in an emailed statement. As the Social Media Coordinator for the Vassar Greens and a member of the Vassar Animal Rights Coalition, Lavieri-Scull is primarily invested in issues of green eating.
“I think that veganism and switching to a plant-based diet is really important in combating climate change. The negative effects of animal agriculture on the environment is one of the biggest polluters, but is rarely talked about, especially by big environmental groups. It is time to bring this issue to the forefront of conversations that are happening about climate change,” she said.
Though signs declaring “Veganism for a greener future” and the like particularly resonated with Lavieri-Scull’s passion, part of what moved her during the march was the multiplicity of special interests all falling under the umbrella of climate change issues.
She explained, “I found it really interesting to observe all the different issues, groups, organizations, etc. that people were representing. Ultimately everything was linked and tied together because of the negative effects of climate change.”
Angela Della Croce ’15 agreed—solidarity was the strongest undercurrent of the march.
“We marchers would occasionally walk by large TV screens that displayed the climate marches occurring around the world. It was exciting and comforting to know that we were united on a global scale, all supporting the same cause,” she wrote in an emailed statement, adding, “One aspect of the event that really resonated with me was the marchers’ reaction to bystanders observing overhead from their windows or balconies. Instead of ignoring them, we acknowledged their presence and chanted at them to join us. The people responded very positively; it was really heartwarming to see such a passionate call for unity.”
One of the most popular chants of the day reflected just this sentiment. Marchers exclaimed, “The people united will never be divided!” Shouts of “Hey, Obama, we don’t want no climate drama,” “Hey ho, these fossil fuels have got to go,” and “No more coal, no more oil, keep our carbon in the soil” also reverberated through midtown, with similarly clever calls to action written on colorful posters and banners.
Della Croce added that events as inspiring as the People’s Climate March have the potential to reinvigorate activism on an individual and collective level. “When it comes to environmental issues, I feel like the intensity, breadth and scope of the concerns are so grand that many activists feel powerless or unsure of where to begin advocating for change. Many environmentally-aware individuals ultimately engage in hypocritical behavior—driving a gas-guzzling car, using plastic bags, buying goods from unethical companies—because these habits have become intractable in our current society. I am undoubtedly guilty of being a ‘convenient environmentalist,’” she admitted.
“I feel like many once-enthusiastic activists become disillusioned with the difficulty of solving our environmental problems and the plethora of forces acting against the growth of the movement. Yet I believe that one of the most powerful tools to continue pushing for a greener world is knowing that you are not alone in the fight; there are thousands of people who will support your endeavors and be willing to unite for this greater cause,” Della Croce said, calling the march a form of self-inspiration.
Beyond the global-scale solidarity that spurred on Della Croce and Lavieri-Scull, the march established connections among the members of the Vassar community.
Noted Lavieri-Scull, “It was really cool to march with Vassar and have students, professors and alums included. I especially like talking with the alum who brought the Vassar banner for us and was marching with her young son. It was interesting to see so many students unite over an important issue.”
Of the faculty that participated in the march was Associate Professor of Geography Mary Ann Cunningham, who spoke to why activism is crucial to students’ environmental studies. “I think we form a lot of our ideas about policy and society and politics early, and so it’s important to see these events in process. I think that more is learned by participants than observers. And events like this give you a lot to think about in terms of what people think and how democracy functions (or doesn’t). That makes it an important learning opportunity,” she wrote in an emailed statement.
She added, “This is about students’ futures, so it’s important that they take the opportunity to speak up. It’s also valuable [to] see that older generations are also enthusiastic and committed. You don’t necessarily see that every day when everyone is occupied with normal business.”
Della Croce echoed Lavieri-Scull’s words, stating, “Marching with my fellow Brewers filled me with an incredible sense of pride for the College…Collegiate institutions are often at the forefront of progressive thought. In my opinion, one of the most important reasons to go to college is to adequately prepare ourselves for the challenges we as a society will face or are currently facing.”
Vassar was among 400 schools that had representation at the march. For Lavieri-Scull, the collegiate presence at the event allowed the opportunity for discussion even in the midst of the action.
“Most people seemed excited to share information about their cause and about what they knew about, while being receptive to hearing about other areas that others knew more about…For example, I talked to a student from Davidson College who asked about our divestment campaign to see what we were doing and we exchanged some ideas. We were at the march to draw attention to climate change and urge world leaders to take action, but a lot of collaboration, sharing and learning was able to take place as well,” she said.
Particularly salient for Lavieri-Scull was the issue of divestment, an initiative that Vassar students have been trying to realize for several years now and is at the forefront of the Vassar Greens.
She explained, “It was empowering to see how many other schools across the country are working to get their school to divest from fossil fuels. Even though I know it is not an isolated fight, it is still nice to be reminded that everyone else also working for the same goal: to divest.”
Though there are individual and group efforts to get the word out about climate change and the steps that can be taken to be more mindful about waste, there are still some who believe climate change is a non-issue.
Cunningham said, “In my view, most misconceptions about climate change are just repetitions of paid statements by certain politicians and lobbyists and media who will say what the highest bidder tells them to say. You can see this because we are about the only country where people continue to object to the idea, so ‘misconceptions’ are more policy positions than lack of available information. We continue to frame climate policy in terms of ‘belief,’ but it’s not about belief, it’s about declining to acknowledge evidence.”
Della Croce and Lavieri-Scull believe that universal, visible efforts like the People’s Climate March serve to help debunk such falsities.
“Environmental issues are one such challenge that requires the cohesion of well-informed and motivated individuals in order to effectively tackle the problem. Thus, having Vassar be represented at the march displays that we are acknowledging this tremendous global issue and are willing to potentially use the resources we’ve acquired in college to solve this problem,” said Della Croce, emphasizing the importance of Vassar’s involvement in the march.
Lavieri-Scull, however, spoke more broadly to strength in numbers. Though first she paused to recollect an especially poignant moment in the march: “We had a moment of silence at 1 p.m. for those impacted by climate change…Then the back of the crowd started to cheer and make noise and you could hear it slowly approaching blocks away until our section erupted in cheers.” She hopes that this enthusiasm can similarly engulf society at-large.
Lavieri-Scull concluded, “I think one misconception is that climate change might be a problem in the future, but that things are fine now. However, we are already experiencing the impacts from climate change and action needs to be taken now. Based on the 400,000 people who showed up, more and more people are realizing the urgency and hopefully more will now be done to slow climate change.”