SMC students attend People’s Climate March in NYC
Rebecca O'Neil | Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Five Saint Mary’s students and one professor boarded the Amtrak shortly after midnight on Friday to join more than 300,000 people in New York City for the People’s Climate March. After a 20-hour train ride, the women met up with five more Saint Mary’s students who traveled by car or by plane to attend Climate Convergence workshops hosted throughout Manhattan.
Sonalini Sapra, assistant professor of political science and gender and women studies, organized the Saint Mary’s students’ involvement in the historical demonstration.
“When I heard about the march I said, ‘I’m definitely going,’ and I said I would love to bring some students with me,” Sapra said.
Sapra said she emailed environmental studies students, global studies majors and some students she thought would have a general interest in attending the Climate March. After an encouraging response from the initial recipients, Sapra succeeded in requesting funds through the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL).
Mikhala Kaseweter, a sophomore and Saint Mary’s first environmental science major, said she was elated to be included as one of the seven students whose travel expenses CWIL covered.
“I was glad to partake in the biggest public display of the values in which I believe,” Kaseweter said.
Kaseweter, who read Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ — a book exploring the detrimental effects of pesticide on the environment — when she was in fifth grade, said she was impressed with people’s dedication to climate justice.
“My favorite part was probably seeing the passion of all the other people at the rally because I thought I was into it, and then I got there and realized that there are actually way cooler people out there who have devoted their whole lives to [the cause],” Kaseweter said.
Eleanor Jones, a junior global studies major, said she was most impressed to see these advocates for climate change demonstrate their passion together.
“My favorite part was the moment of silence that everybody gave at the same time and then hearing the roar of people from the very back sweep across the whole audience of the march,” Jones said. “It really showed the unity of the people. They were unified in their silence and then they were also unified in their celebration of the event.”
Sapra said about a minute of silence was offered for the victims of climate change and shortly thereafter, the crowd used another minute to shout support for effective action on this issue.
Jones said the College’s location in Indiana enhanced the significance of having representatives contribute to the march.
“I think that in particular people in the Midwest need to show their support for causes like this that mainly draw attention to either coast,” she said.
Kasewater said her attendance and that of her Saint Mary’s peers at the People’s Climate March coincided with the College’s move towards a more eco-friendly campus.
“I think it’s a clear demonstration of the focus on sustainability that the sisters of the Holy Cross have incorporated into their mission,” she said.
“Catholic colleges, particularly colleges like Saint Mary’s, have a strong social justice component to their mission,” Sapra said. “I think it’s really important that students at the College understand what a big issue this is. This is the big issue of your generation.
“I think environmental issues, issues around climate justice, get talked about in very muted ways on our campus. I think in putting this group together, my thinking was … this is a great way for you guys to get connected with other groups working nationally and internationally and it sounds like [the students] did a lot of that interacting with other youth, people from other organizations.”
The People’s Climate March organizers originally estimated 100,000 participants would attend the march; 400,000 people shattered that expectation by showing up Sunday, according to the March’s website. There were numerous reports of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ban Ki-moon, Jane Goodall, Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio being in attendance.
Sapra said this issue will most directly affect the lives of Generation X and onward but noted that activists of all ages have gotten involved.
“I liked the sign that was right behind us when we assembled — ‘Women Elders Concerned about Climate Change’ — and the whole ‘gray-to-green,’ ‘Grandmas for climate change,’ ‘Grandmas for climate justice,’” she said. “I think it was great to see such a cross-sectional range of people — plenty of young people, but plenty of people in their seventies and eighties as well, and it’s pretty interesting because they were marching for their grandkids and their great grandkids. They want to leave the planet a better place, and I thought that was very inspiring.
“There are so many other moments you know people being in solidarity with each other, is a really powerful thing to see.”
Ellyn Milan, a junior global studies said she chose to go the march to learn more about the cause. She said she connected with other groups and students who participated in the Climate Convergence and the March itself.
“I’ve always been aware of the different environmental issues, but I’ve ever looked in depth at what is out there and what can be done about it the different support groups that fight for different causes,” Milan said. “… I really liked the different speakers we heard on Saturday because there were a lot of things that I could agree with and relate with and different issues that I wasn’t aware of now want to investigate further and try to do my part.
“… The march itself was just incredible. Seeing all the people come out from New York, from around the country, around the world — each fighting for their own cause but at the same time, united in purpose.”
Sapra said she hopes the students who traveled to New York will be inspired enough not only to rethink their own commitments to sustainability, but also to spread that awareness to their classmates.
“My hope is also that [the students] come back to campus and … do something to raise issues about sustainability, climate justice, environmental justice at Saint Mary’s because I think our campus has a long way to go in meeting sustainability,” Sapra said. “That’s also seeded in the community of South Bend — it has a long way to go.”
“I think in our campus, it’s only when students ask for things that things get done and so if students are not pushing for this then the Saint Mary’s administration doesn’t take it seriously,” Sapra said.