By Kay Bushman, an educator and nature lover from Berlin, VT, and a member of 350VT’s Writing for Climate Justice group
My first climate action was a spontaneous one: early in my first year of college I joined a table of my fellow freshmen eagerly talking about their plans to hop on a bus to New York City for the People’s Climate March. Despite the fact that the march was only two days away, two friends and I pulled out our phones and bought tickets for a bus to NYC without question. A friend from high school agreed to let the three of us sleep on his floor in Queens. The next morning, giddy, we piled onto a bus cramped with college kids and made the three-and-a-half-hour drive to New York. After hardly sleeping because of the oppressive heat and our buoyant excitement, we got up early the morning of September 21st to join the ocean of people heading toward Central Park West. I didn’t know much about climate change: mostly that it is bad. But on the street the energy was hopeful and determined, and even though the cell towers were too overwhelmed to send out a single text that morning, the message was clear: we were here to fight for the planet, together.
My two friends and I left the march early, running through Port Authority to catch the last bus back to Massachusetts, but we knew that that day, we had been a part of history.
Like the People’s March—but on a much smaller scale—the Next Steps Climate Solutions Walk, walking from Middlebury to Montpelier April 5th through 9th, aims to bring a community together. In fact, each day of the walk will have a theme, and day one is Reunion: building community and our relationships with each other. As someone who considers themselves new to taking action, finding a welcoming community is always leads to an exhale of relief: For a long time, I thought that to do something about climate change I somehow had to enter into spaces with people who seemed unapproachable and so much more educated than I, to skip my studies or call out from work so I could go risk arrest somewhere, chained to something. That’s not to say that work isn’t incredibly important, I just knew it wasn’t for me—but I realize now that activism isn’t the intimating picture I had painted of it. In fact, it can be making art, or showing up to vote, writing letters, or yes, skipping school to go sit outside a government building. It doesn’t require us all to adopt the career title of “activist”. It just requires us to do some act of resistance.
And resistance will be the theme of day two of the march: bearing witness to the pipeline. After the climate march, I had another equally spontaneous dip into climate change activism, this time resisting the Keystone XL pipeline. While visiting a friend at Tulane University that winter, we ended up participating in a Keystone XL Pipeline protest taking place on a street corner near her dorm; neither of us knowing much about Keystone XL, except that it was bad. It was a small group this time, standing on the sidewalk, holding signs and brandishing petitions, but the feeling of the Climate March was there with them—a deep love for this planet we call home and a desire to fight for its welfare. At the time, though, pipelines seemed like a distant worry, far from home. But I can no longer say I was surprised to find that a large motivation of the Next Steps Walk is to raise awareness and protest a pipeline. This one is the Addison Natural Gas Project, aka ANGP, a 43-mile fracked gas pipeline delivering natural gas from Canada, built by Vermont Gas. The pipeline was protested by hundreds of people in multiple communities across Vermont, but was still completed in April of 2017. Since 2016, multiple violations relating to wetlands, safety and construction have been discovered. The current investigation into whether the pipeline was approved by a state engineer before construction began and claims that the pipeline may not have been buried deep enough could result in a shutdown of pipeline operations. 350VT has been in opposition to this pipeline since the beginning, in the fight to protect Vermonters and transition away from fossil fuels, and the Next Steps Walk is another battle in this years-long fight.
It was after returning home from that New Orleans street corner that I began the walk that we will all have to take in our own time, if it hasn’t already begun: the journey to educate oneself about the depth and severity of climate change, to begin the process of mourning for our planet, of feeling anger, despair, desperation, helplessness, resolve, hope and community.
For me, it took years to get past resignation and desperation and back to hope; the grieving process is not linear. The third day of the walk will pay tribute to this process with the theme of Reimagine: shifting consciousness. Those 300,000 plus people around me on the street in New York had begun this process, and I’ve seen friends and family members change their thinking and their lifestyles, but it will take change by every single one of us to save our world.
And that change that is so desperately needed is why the 4th day of the walk is focusing on the theme Recreate: seeking solutions, alternatives and transitions. For many, solutions are exciting to discuss, but transitions are often met with challenge. But reimagining and recreating go hand-in-hand: It is once we are aware of the problem that we look for solutions, and once we understand the severity of our plight that we accept the gravity of the change that needs to happen. We need fresh eyes, new ideas, and innovative energy to come up with solutions—there is always room for those who are curious, concerned, and still learning in this process. You are some of the most valuable players in the battle for the planet.
The walk will conclude on April 9th, with a 7-miles walk from Middlesex to Montpelier. The final day of the walk will march with the goal of Reform: speaking truth to power. To conclude the walk, community members will gather together in Montpelier, continuing the democratic tradition of showing up and telling our elected leaders what we want to see: steps towards solutions to climate change.
These themes may seem intimidating, especially to someone like me, who just a few years ago knew nothing about the climate movement. But a goal of the walk is to be welcoming to those of us who perhaps don’t feel qualified to bear the title of activist, and/or are new and still have a lot to learn. Getting involved without much prior knowledge can be intimidating. But I can say after years of feeling like the least educated person in the room, since becoming involved with 350VT, I’ve been amazed at how patient, passionate and kind everyone is. There is room to grow and learn here—and get your steps in while you do.
If walking a dozen miles a day sounds totally out of your wheelhouse, never fear: the planet needs all sorts to help get things sorted out. Cooks, community liaisons, child caretakers, shuttle drivers and clean up crews are among the helpers needed to make the Next Steps Walk a success. You could even spontaneously show up at one of the events along the way. (I encourage it.)
The Next Steps Walk will take place April 5th through 9th, beginning in Middlebury and ending in Montpelier. For more information on the Next Steps Walk and to register, visit: https://350vermont.org/nextsteps/