Climate rally seeks real change: Community fights for environment

On Sunday, Sept. 22, 27 Oles and 15 Carls took part in the People’s Climate March in New York City. The students joined approximately 400,000 environmental activists from around the world to campaign for meaningful action by world leaders during the United Nations Climate Summit that took place the following Tuesday. Organized by and other environmental groups, the march was the largest social demonstration in a decade.

The students – along with additional marchers hailing from Northfield, the Twin Cities and Wisconsin – left Friday and endured a 20-hour bus ride out to New York and back again, in order to return the following Monday night. Students were hosted by Judson Memorial Church in NYC.

The Northfield bus to the march was organized by student activists from both college campuses. Sam Neubauer ’17, Brent Murcia ’15 and Mollie Wetherall ’15 organized from the Carleton side. Mari Hougen-Eitzman ’17 helped lead the charge from the Hill. Hougen-Eitzman, founder of the St. Olaf Greenpeace chapter, was able to secure a subsidized bus from the organization to bring students to the march. The funding provided partial and full scholarships toward the cost of tickets. After all seats on the bus were filled, the students participating were tasked with fundraising to cover the remaining cost of transportation – a total of $4,000. Using Facebook, Twitter, direct e-mails and an Indiegogo campaign, they exceeded their goal by $352.

The march was a first foray into political activism for most of the St. Olaf students. Hougen-Eitzman and several Carleton students had experience with direct protest, including being arrested at a March protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline at the White House.

Representatives from St. Olaf’s Environmental Coalition, Greenpeace chapter and Farrell House attended the rally, along with Carleton’s Students for Protection of the Environment, Climate Justice Coalition and Food Truth groups.

Many of the Carls and a majority of the Oles were underclassmen. St. Olaf’s sophomore class was especially well-represented, including the first alumni of the Environmental Conversation.

This new Conversation program, which began last year, takes a cohort of students through Introduction to Environmental Studies and environmentally-themed first-year writing and religion courses. As with the other Conversation programs, EnCon students share a dorm, participate in Con-specific events and are generally encouraged to take their learning into life beyond the classroom. The EnCon students interviewed all pointed to this first year experience and the community it created as a motivating factor in their participation in the march.

Student activists also cited the desire to increase conversation on campus and develop the environmentally aware and engaged portion of the St. Olaf community.

“Right now I think St. Olaf doesn’t have the biggest environmental community on campus. I thought this would be a really great way to get people from a lot of different parts of campus involved and in the environmental community,” said Hougen-Eitzman.

Both Oles and Carls also cited a desire to build connections between the environmental communities of the two schools.

“This is a chance for St. Olaf and Carleton students to get together that we don’t [often have],” said Robbie Emmet ’16, a Carleton student. “Even if we get that chance, we don’t often take advantage of it. [This is] just an opportunity we might as well not miss.”

Student activists hope that this march will bring together the environmental communities of the two colleges, whatever the wider political outcome. On the return bus ride, students broke into groups and discussed ideas and goals for action on both campuses going forward. New ideas for existing environmental groups were discussed, as were possibilities such as divestment, food justice and a no-impact honor house. Oles and Carls alike expressed interest in getting involved with organizations on the other campuses.

Student activists agreed that the struggle to combat climate change has only just begun.

Image Courtesy of Carina Lofgren