By Maddie Samuels
An estimated 400,000 people from all around the world marched through the streets of New York City in the name of ending climate change on Sunday, September 21.
It was the People’s Climate March, a grassroots movement planned by a coalition of organizations fighting to improve the environment. The two groups most involved were the Sierra Club, an environmental organization formed in 1892, and 350.org.
The latter is an organization, founded by environmentalist and author Bill McKibben, that aims to cut carbon emissions in the atmosphere and bring the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 400 parts per million to a safer level of 350 parts per million.
The march was organized in advance of a United Nations Climate Summit that took place on Tuesday, September 23, drawing leaders from around the world to New York City.
The goal of the march was to demonstrate widespread, mainstream concern about climate change.
Mark Ruffalo, Leonardo DiCaprio, climate change champion and former Vice President Al Gore, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon all attended the march.
Among the people flooding the streets were a small band of about 45 students from Union.
Union did not sponsor the group, and the marchers did not go as part of any single club. Instead, they went to New York City, along with 500 other students from the Capital Region, on buses subsidized by the Sierra Club and 350.org.
The other buses came from State University of New York (SUNY) Albany, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), the College of Saint Rose and Russell Sage College. These 500 students added to the 50,000 other students who attended the march from various schools across the country.
The streets were packed with marchers from 86th Street above
Central Park all the way to 38th Street. Marchers were organized into categories like scientists, teachers, youth, parents and indigenous people.
There was a continuous stream of people in midtown Manhattan for more than three hours.
Some walked quietly, some chanted and others brought large floats with them, including one that represented Mother Earth.
“It was really amazing to see such a wide variety of people all coming together to demonstrate passion for the same cause,” said Amy Provost ’17, one of the many students who boarded a bus at 6 a.m. to go to the march.
Another student, Allie Novak ’17, agreed, stating, “It was so cool seeing the number of people there and experiencing the energy and passion for change coming from the protestors.”
Maya Whalen-Kipp ’16 was the campus lead at the March. In early July, a representative from 350.org contacted her to ask her to be Union’s campus lead.
“When he gave me the option to become campus lead, I kind of jumped on that because I really thought that this was an important thing for me to be a part of and for Union College to be a part of,” Whalen-Kipp said.
She met the 350.org representative at Power Shift, an environmental youth conference in Pittsburg, Pa., in October 2013, which she attended with Union’s Environmental Club.
As the campus lead, she spread the word to students on campus and organized the bus, which brought the students down to New York City and back.
She also coordinated with the other campus leads from the schools in the Capital Region that attended the march.
She spoke highly of this connection with the campus leads, and, because of this link, was able to bring a group of students to SUNY Albany on Tuesday, September 16, to see Bill McKibben speak about global warming and about the march.
“No, this march was not going to end climate change. No one thinks that.” Whalen-Kipp stated. “It was a march to make noise and to show that the American people care about this.”
Whalen-Kipp was impressed by the number of Union students who came out for the march. She was also impressed by the diversity of students who attended the march, including many students from the Environmental Club, some from across the country and even a few international students and exchange students.
“We’re the ones who are going to be dealing with this … This is the moment where we take a stand.”
Whalen-Kipp knows that this is not the end but hopes that it will motivate people going forward.
She highly encourages the students who attended the march, and anyone else interested in this pressing issue, to join the Environmental Club.
She believes that the responsibility lies on the shoulders of our generation, asserting, “This is our movement.”