On the night of October 2, 2014, the basements of Peace Community Church and First Church were host to forty visitors of different ages, backgrounds, and personal creeds. The group call themselves the Great March for Climate Action, and they were walking from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. to connect communities, share stories, and raise awareness about the need for direct and drastic actions against climate change. A few Oberlin students attended the event and connected with the marchers, though the event was not well publicized. Partly to remedy this, I grabbed my camera and recorder, and documented whatever I could. This is a handful of stories and faces from the band of activists.
“One of the most rewarding things is connecting with all the communities we go through.”
“I’m the founder of the March, I was a state legislator for 14 years, and I’m a talk show host currently. I have my smartphone, and I have a producer back in Des Moines, and we make the talk show work (as I march).”
“I’ve been calling myself Creekwater for more than 20 years because I want people to know, we’ve been brainwashed to think that we can’t drink creek water. We can. I’m in good health. Everywhere I go – East Coast, Midwest, West Coast – the best water is in the Rocky Mountains, and then there’s the Appalachian Mountains. In the Midwest, the water tastes kind of flat.
“I’ve been on other walks across the country, and every time you get to Ohio people start talking about ‘the walk’s almost over,’ they don’t realize we still gotta cross Pennsylvania. Mountains, and big thick forests, and bear country! Everything that even smells like food, we need to put it in the kitchen truck and close it and lock it so the bears can’t get at in.”
Kat; Homer, Alaska
“My family’s not on the March. They think I’m nuts. My 18 year old son is working, I hope, and my husband is back in Alaska with our sunglasses company. I just witness, every single day in Alaska, the devastating changes that are happening to our ecosystems up there. This summer, an hour and a half from my house, a river fire burned so hot that it became NASA’s photograph of the day. That fire was the size of Chicago.”
“Every day, I march with photos of children or grandchildren of people who’ve sponsored me to come on the march. This child attends my Finnish Lutheran church.”
Kelsey Juliana, 18; Eugene, OR
“The most hopeful moment of the March for me has been seeing the kids, ages 3, 6, and 9, dancing through the streets of New York City and singing and chanting along with 400,000 other people for climate action.
“A five-person family (mother, father, and three children aged nine, six and three) joined in Lincoln, Nebraska. The children walk half the time and ride in the wagons when they become too tired to walk.”
“I’m doing ballet!”
Bryant, 24; El Paso, TX
“The most beautiful moment for me was – well, I decided I was going to leave the march for a period of time. I remember the day after I told everybody I was going to leave permanently, although it didn’t end up being permanent at all. I was sitting outside of Pawnee Lake, just outside Lincoln, NE, watching the sun rise– amazing, beautiful, all different shades of pink– and seeing our camp begin to wake up.”
Fernando; Chicago, IL
“The March is like a freaking adventure, because every day is different. I’ve been at it three weeks and it feels like three months.”
Andre; Omaha, NE
“I found out about the March through my mom, who’s a Native American activist. She’s a paraplegic; she’s been in a wheelchair since her twenties, and I saw how much she wanted to be part of the March so I told her I’d walk for her and be her eyes. I quit my job and joined up with the March in Des Moines about a week later, and I’ve been with them since and I’m going all the way to D.C. ”
“I’m making a vegan alfredo pasta with chicken and broccoli. Chicken for the meat eaters, and vegan alfredo sauce with broccoli for the vegans and veggies. The meat eaters often feel left out – most of the group is vegetarian or vegan, and the meat eaters are like ‘God! Gimme some protein!’” – Lala
Berenice; Hastings-on-Hudson, NY
“I think one of our major projects as a march is to give a human face to the climate crisis, because it can seem abstract to a lot of people. They think of little molecules floating around in the atmosphere, and it’s hard to relate to the lives of individual people in the way you think about, you know, helping children who have cancer. Climate change often doesn’t have those individual stories to accompany it, even though it probably actually has more individual stories than any crisis in history has ever had.
“For instance, when we were in Arizona we discovered that only one of Arizona’s 22 rivers is still flowing, and in the Midwest we learned that one guy sells fertilizer to agribusiness and says in ten years he probably won’t have a job because there isn’t going to be any more corn grown in the Midwest.”
Birdy is a rescue dog from Arizona and the mascot of the March. Her short legs get tired faster than her human’s, so she usually rides in the food truck.
“Ciiiiircle!” shouted Creekwater. A woman with a thick, short mop of grey hair started a chant to gather the group, conducting with a toothbrush the same electric green as her vest.
Steve Hammond, the reverend of Peace Church, saw the group off. His dog, Erie, freely gave kisses to the marchers. Oberlin alum Christopher Yarrow ’95 (son of folk musician Peter Yarrow) was also there. “I studied arts and art history, and I live in Portland, Oregon,” he introduced himself.
“Yeah!” whooped Kelsey. “Eugene, baby! Eugene!”
“You are all in my prayers, in my thoughts,” Yarrow said, and proposed that the group sing a song to start their morning off. “Does anyone know verses from This Land is Your Land?”
“We’ve been singing it all across the country,” replied a marcher.
Director of Environmental Studies John Petersen showed up to see the marchers off. “I’m sorry that I can’t march with you, but I guess we’re providing you a great service– we’re going to take your shit!” He gestured to the EcoCommode, the fruits of which are now powering the Living Machine at the AJLC.
Some more photos of the Climate Marchers:
Miriam tapes up her blisters before hitting the road.
One of the rickshaws pulls out of Oberlin at 9AM on Friday.
Kelsey and Michael press on towards North Olmsted, the next destination on the long road to D.C.