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Thursday, Aug 18, 2022

One Week Later, Activists Reflect on Climate Walk

<span class="photocreditinline">Divya Gudur</span><br />Protesters wave flags as they march towards the Statehouse in Montpelier to raise climate awareness.
Divya Gudur
Protesters wave flags as they march towards the Statehouse in Montpelier to raise climate awareness.

Two weeks ago, extensive collaboration among members of Middlebury’s Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and a number of local and statewide activist organizations culminated in the “Next Steps: Climate Solutions Walk.” Protesters joined in for as much of the 5-day, 65-mile walk as they could, beginning at the Middlebury Town Green on Friday and concluding on Tuesday, April 9 with a protest at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.

The Next Steps march was inspired in part by a climate awareness walk held during the fall of 2006. Thirteen years before Next Steps, Bill McKibben and six others gathered at Carol’s Coffee Shop, formerly located where The Daily Grind stands now, to think through the branding, logistics and outreach of a climate walk. Professor of Economics Jon Isham was one of the six. Isham told The Campus that the group settled on a route from the Robert Frost Cabin in Ripton to Burlington, themed around the idea of a road less traveled.

Because Middlebury “has the oldest environmental studies department in the world,” McKibben wrote in an email to The Campus, “it naturally focused on these issues before others did.” He identified SNEG as “an early example of fine organizing,” and said he gave the first talk on his 1989 book “The End of Nature”, the first book on climate change written for the general public, at Middlebury at the request of a student.

“To see that this spirit has reached even the trustees, with their landmark decision on divestment, makes me extremely proud to be part of this community,” McKibben wrote.

Isham also praised SNEG, saying that Middlebury students’ activism is continuous, though their methods have varied, mentioning a past group of students who put fake parking tickets on SUVs to draw attention to emissions.

“One generation of students passes down victories and ideas and frustrations to the next,” Isham said.

Divya Gudur ’21 is a student activist and SNEG member who played a central role in organizing the Climate Solutions Walk. Her primary roles included registering participants and coordinating the younger walkers, whose involvement was a key feature of the Climate Solutions Walk.

“It’s like, I’m responsible for this one thing, but there’s so much planning going to other things,” Gudur said. “Everything had to come together.”

Gudur said the march was a communal activity — a time for people brought together by a shared cause to get to know each other, with no distractions except the beautiful land around them. It was an opportunity for everyone to connect personally to climate issues, and for Middlebury students, especially, to engage more closely with surrounding communities.

“I had a blast,” said Leif Taranta ’21, another student activist and SNEG member who marched for several days. He said the walk was a fun, cheery experience, which was something he had not anticipated because of the grimness of climate change. It was musical, too, he added, as participants sang along the walkand were occasionally joined by bands along the way.

The marchers began walking around nine each morning and took frequent rest stops throughout the day. The days all had themes — reunion, resist, recreate, reimagine and reform — and the stops matched those themes. On Sunday, April 7 they explored “recreate” by looking at climate solutions including a solar farm, and held a greeting ceremony in Hinesburg, where the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline passes through Geprags Park.

At the end of the day, communities hosted the marchers for the night in churches, houses, and community centers and held potlucks for the marchers. “All these community members would make us food,” Gudur said. “It was amazing. The food was amazing.” After-dinner programming varied daily, but consisted of nonviolent direct action training, action planning, community conversation and an art build.

The Climate Solutions Walk focused on three resolutions coming up in the Vermont legislature related to banning fossil fuel infrastructure. A number of marchers will testify at the recently announced public hearing on April 23. In recognition of the resolutions, the protestors carried pussy willow branches into the statehouse and placed them at each representative’s spot in the House and Senate energy committees. On tags attached to the branches, the younger participants wrote the things they wanted to preserve.

About 300 people packed into the halls of the statehouse at the end of the march, with the youth standing in the middle. As they sang “More Waters Rising,” Gudur said the solidarity was powerful, referring to it as “literally the best day of my life.”

Taranta stressed how valuable it would be for more Middlebury students to get involved in climate issues and work to make change themselves. “Not everyone can walk 65 miles,” he said, but “there are hard things that all of us can do.”