by Leif Taranta 

Working in the Vermont Climate Justice Movement gives me so much hope. Every day, there are people out here doing amazing work. This summer, I’ve met people who shut down pipelines, coal plants, and ICE facilities. I’ve met people who build the soil with their permaculture practices while erecting solar panels. I’ve met people who host community-wide summits to envision a better future, who create real local democracies and lobby the legislature for change, who build networks to defend their communities against police, and who use their ancestral practices to connect with the land. These people give me hope for new communities, for relationships built not on exploitation, but collective resistance and support. Struggling together, I’ve seen how we can create a better world. And the thing is–we have to. 

Next Steps Walkers cross a railroad bridge over the Winooski River outside Richmond. Photo Credit: Zac Rudge.

We need change immediately. Looking around, I see signs of ecological collapse and rising fascism everywhere. Between research that states we have only 11 years to address the climate crisis, the reality of concentration camps and police brutality, sexism and widespread poverty, it feels like we are on a precipice. Just a few weeks ago, the refinery in my home town that has been poisoning my black neighbors for decades exploded. The plant is closing down now, and the workers are the ones being laid off–disposed of by the corporation. And when these things happen, it feels like logic is disappearing.

But the problem is, all these events are logical. And they are connected. Though they are terrible and twisted, the root causes of our current crisis are easy to uncover. The concentration camps are one part of a larger system of US military intervention and climate degradation that forces people to move. Their ‘logic’ goes back centuries–to colonization, extractive capitalism, and slavery–processes which inherently devalue some human beings for others’ profit. 

Next Steps Walkers cross behind a banner hung on an overpass over I-89. The banner reads “Caution Climate Crisis Ahead.” Photo Credit: Zac Rudge.

I walk around each day filled with cognitive dissonance, my feelings of hope mixed with despair. My dissonance comes from watching inspired, dedicated people block refinery gates even as gas plants are growing. It comes from working with trans youth and watching them flourish and find friends and confidence and pride in themselves, and realizing that they will only be 18 when their climate fate is decided. It comes from watching people create new adaptive societies as our ecosystem collapses. 

On 350VT’s five day Next Steps Walk for Climate Justice, I was struck by how fast a model for collective liberation could be built. On the first day of the march, we were a ragtag bunch of strangers who wandered all over the road, ate in small closed groups, and got separated by conversations and walking speeds. By the last day, we were a unit. Snack breaks became a time for fast eating and smiles and treating each other’s blisters, and we started to cross the roads together in spontaneous cohesion. I’ve never seen a new community form that quickly, never seen people adapt so rapidly to a new way of being. In the past months, I’ve seen other sudden changes, whether it was Middlebury’s sudden flip on divestment or the snowballing energy for a Green New Deal. Working with 350VT, Sunrise Movement,  Extinction Rebellion, and the Climate Disobedience Center, I’ve become so hopeful that we can create rapid change on a global level. 

Next Steps Walkers viewed from the air as they round a bend between two farm fields. Photo Credit: Corey Hendrickson.

What we are doing is working. Nonviolent resistance is stopping ICE activities and fossil fuel infrastructure. Youth strikes and actions are flipping government positions. Tree plantings are cleaning the air. But at the same time, none of this is enough. The ecosystem is still collapsing, and fascism is still spreading. If all of our amazing struggling and dreaming and partnering and resistance is going to pay off, we have to scale it up. 

Get Involved

If we are to truly move towards climate justice, we are going to need everyone. We need youth and racial justice groups and unions and organizers and artists and so many newcomers. We need many creative tactics as well, whether that’s getting in the way of business as usual or rebuilding a new society. We need urgency and humor and anger, and the willingness to work and learn together. We need everyone’s gifts, whether that is courage or motivating others, or spontaneity, or expertise or spirituality. We need to take all of the amazing work people have been doing and ramp it up until we are stronger than the broken logic that is tearing our world apart.

In September, we’re going for it. From September 20-27, climate justice youth leaders and allied organizations are planning a week of escalated action around the globe. In Vermont, a coalition of groups have been working to plan a week of actions that will scale up everything we’ve been working on. We’ll be starting with mass climate strikes, where Vermont youth and adults will join the millions of people striking across the planet. Then, we will continue with a week of creative and theatrical actions that will target local climate injustices, celebrate solutions, and engage the public in our movement. At the end of the week, we will organize a  mass direct action against fossil fuel infrastructure and resist coal and gas in the Northeast. And this is just the start.

Rally at the end of the Next Steps Walk for Climate Justice. Walkers and supporters stand on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse with flags and banners. Photo Credit: Zac Rudge.

September will be a step forward for the movement to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure in Vermont, create local transit and agricultural solutions, resist business as usual, and build participatory democracies and a Green Mountain New Deal. From now until September, we will be planning and working and imagining. From September on, we will take all of that momentum for climate justice and grow even stronger. We are going to need you, whoever is reading this. Now is the time to get involved. 

Climate reports tell us that the next few years will be the struggle of our lives–a long continuation of centuries of struggle against injustice and exploitation. It will be a test of each of our abilities to leverage our strengths in support of a larger movement, of our collective ability to center justice in a push for a better world. From now until September, we must work as hard as we can to create the escalation this movement needs. From then on, we will build until hope is far stronger than despair. We are going to need whatever you can bring, and we can’t wait to work with you. Here we go. 

Join Us

To get involved with planning the September week of action in Vermont, email mobilize@350vt.org