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Justice Fridays discuss People’s Climate March

| Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Three Saint Mary’s students who took part in the People’s Climate March in New York on Sept. 21 shared their experiences there at a panel called “Marching for Sustainability and Global Climate Justice” on Friday as part of the Justice Education Department’s Justice Fridays series.

Assistant professor of political science and gender and women studies Sonalini Sapra said she was one of two faculty members to walk alongside Saint Mary’s students in Manhattan. The Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL) funded the trip, Sapra said.

“I heard about the march over the summer through 350.org, and the purpose of this rally … was to get people mobilized and show there are a lot of people who want the government to do a lot more [for the environment],” Sapra said.

The rally was purposefully scheduled close to the United Nations Climate Summit called by Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the UN, Sapra said. World leaders, including the President of the United States, attended to prepare for next year’s round of climate change negotiations, Sapra said.

Sapra said roughly 400,000 people attended the environmental rally in New York, which was one of 2,600 similar events in more than 150 countries across the globe.

Saint Mary’s junior and global studies major Eleanor Jones said she was motivated to attend the march so that the Midwest would be represented among other regions of the country.

“I was really interested in joining [and] going to the march because I’ve always been interested in global issues,” Jones said. “I think a lot of the activism is seen on either coast.”

Jones said she appreciated connecting with a variety of groups representing different demographics concerned with climate change but especially cherished the concerted moment of silence during the rally.

“We happened to be right by the sign that said ‘moment of silence,’” Jones said. “It was really quiet within that minute, and at the end of the minute we just heard this big roar that escalated over the entire march.”

The College’s first environmental studies major, sophomore Mikhala Kaseweter said she was also touched by the marchers’ cheers.

“My favorite part of the march were the chants we did,” Kaseweter said. “The fact that you could hear literally thousands of voices at the same time [was] just pretty empowering.”

Kaseweter said her attendance at the march fulfilled a personal desire to further her environmental activism.

“There’s actually more reasons I went than I can articulate,” Kaseweter said. “I follow all sorts of activism pages, [but] I’ve been kind of impersonal with my activism.”

Sapra said she and the Saint Mary’s students attended organized supplementary climate justice workshops offered the day before the march.

“I went to one about Karl Marx and climate change,” Sapra said. “I also went to one put together by indigenous women.”

Associate professor of English Chris Cobb attended the march as well.

“I went because the march seemed like the best opportunity that the people of the world have had to make a statement about climate change that would be heard and begin to gain more attention in the media from governmental leaders,” Cobb said. “It’s obviously not something … that is [going away].”

Cobb said the size of the march, though unexpected, was a testament to the importance of climate justice.

“The size of it … was a kind of wonderful surprise,” Cobb said. “We knew the march was big, but as we got about eight blocks, we gradually gathered ourselves back together and miraculously found a Chinese restaurant. … It was almost two hours until we came out. People were still coming.”

Cobb said he was also struck by the number of and diversity in constituents of the march.

“The environmental movement has been dealing with the issue of elitism,” Cobb said. “This march really spoke to me that this issue may not be over, but environmental justice has become a centrally accepted idea. There were so many issues being represented, and everyone understood that these issues are bound up together. That was very exciting for me to see that way in which the movement has developed.”

Unlike other protests and public displays of activism, the march was not a somber or grim event, Cobb said.

“This was not a mean event,” he said. “This was an event that was very joyous, coming out of a deep love for the community, and I think … the call for climate justice is shown to be a very positive call for people who love people.”

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