4:45 am. Dark. Completely dark. No moon. 31 sleepy students, 18 staff, 1 cameraman, 1 graduate and 4 wide awake elementary-schoolers climb onto a coach bus with two tanks of helium and 100 un-inflated balloons to drive 6 hours to New York City.
Thus began our preposterous and wonderful journey to the People’s Climate March on September 21. If this sounds daunting, it’s because it was. Before the end of our 19 hour day, we would join a crowd of 400,000, walk several miles in humid 79 degree weather, struggle to find available public bathrooms, and scarf down a whole lot of Big Green Truck pizza.
Why would so many 16 and 17 year olds willingly get up that early in the morning to spend so much time on a bus? As we drove, munching on bagels and inflating green and white balloons, I asked the students what they were most looking forward to and they said…
OM: “Seeing the amount of people who took time out from all over the country for the same thing. I’ve never experienced something like this before.”
EM: “The two minutes of silence at 12:58 pm. I think that’s going to be really cool.”
BBM: “Meeting more people who care about our future. I’m also excited to see how many people compliment me on my Hawaiian shirt.”
DR: “Going somewhere I’ve never been before and marching.”
IE: “Seeing my sister – she’s coming all the way from her college, and so I thought, wow, I should make the trip too. It’s exciting to have someone from my family there.”
JF: “Being part of something this huge.”
EM: “Seeing NYC and being part of the biggest climate change movement yet. And I’m excited about seeing how many balloons we have.”
TS: “Seeing so many people who want to be there.”
EB: “Making a difference.”
ALL: “The possibility of making history.”
LM: “Being in the march with everyone else who is as excited about the cause as we are.”
RB: “Shattering some eardrums with our whistles during the 2 minutes of noise.”
LA: “Being in the environment that we’re going to, and I’m excited about our purpose for being there.”
AK: “Making a lot of noise for climate change.”
SH: “Being in a large crowd and seeing how organizations create events on a larger scale.”
ABW: “Having my balloon displayed to the world. It says ‘Yes we can.’ It’s a metaphor for my greater message.”
HF: “Hearing the reaction afterwards.”
TM: “Seeing all the people who come out.”
AD: “Getting involved in an issue I care about.”
NF: “The two minutes of noise!”
SN: “Being part of such an important movement and being part of a march. I’ve never done that before.”
JS: “The pizza!”
GZ: “Having the opportunity to demonstrate with people of our generation. It’s cool because our generation is not only interested but also directly involved.”
I also asked the teachers what they were looking forward to:
Emily: “Seeing students experience this for the first time and knowing that it could be a big part of their future.”
Pam: “I’m excited about being part of history.”
Comf: “I’m looking forward to walking with a lot of people.”
Bruce: “Being part of a larger group movement.”
Pat: “Everyone making it safely back to Vershire. That comes first. After that, I’m excited about helping create a new momentum for change with respect to atmospheric policy.”
The next day in our school meeting, students shared what stood out to them as memorable from the march.
OM: “The march was cool because there were no organized speeches. It was just about being there with others. It was a very long day and tiring, so when we got to the heavenly pizza, it was just amazing.”
JS: “One thing that stood out to me were the vast differences in the people who were all united in the march: there were communists, nudists, people shouting ‘Down with GMOs’ all united under climate change.”
CM: “My favorite part was the moment of silence and then hearing the wave of sound coming from uptown, and then all of us just screaming.”
IE: “I loved seeing the little kids there – they got to participate in something so much bigger than themselves even if they don’t know it now.”
EB: “I also liked seeing the older people there, like there was a guy with a sign that said, ‘I’m marching for my daughter.’ They don’t necessarily need to care as much, but they did and that was really powerful.”
EM: “When we first got to the march, we were behind a barricade, and when we looked across the street and saw the huge banner that read “MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DEMANDS CHANGE” and all the Mountain School graduates were screaming and yelling. They were all wearing dorm shirts or Boraxo shirts, which was really cool to see. And they were so nice to us; they walked with us in the march and talked to us the whole time.”
TM: “I had some really good conversations with random strangers!”
EB: “I loved when we drove back from the march at midnight and a whole bunch of students were waiting for us in front of the academic building. It was really nice to have you smiling there to greet us.”
JF: “At one point we pulled up next to another bus that said, ‘Clark Students for Change.’ We were stuck in traffic for awhile, so we were just sitting there next to them, and it was cool to look over and see other people doing the same thing as us.”
GZ: “One thing that I liked was that once we got outside of New York City, we were unintentionally in a caravan of 5 or 6 buses together. I kept forgetting that we weren’t all connected; we didn’t plan this.”
NM: “I ran into my neighbor! I live in a town of 3,000 people in New Hampshire. What are the chances of that??”
NF: “During the march, someone started singing happy birthday and everyone around me started singing. I felt so loved! People I didn’t even know kept patting me on the back saying ‘Happy sweet 16!'”
HF: “I loved the drummers during the march because everyone around them was dancing and having a good time. That stood out to me because it’s a solemn issue, obviously, but it was a really joyous march.”
A couple of graduates weighed in as well with their favorite aspect of the climate march.
RS (F’13): “My favorite part of the day was getting to march with alumni from other semesters and it be totally normal because we all connect over similar Mountain School experiences, love of faculty members, and passion for the theme of the day.”
BY (S’14): “Favorite moments from the march: seeing faculty, the moment of silence followed by the rolling noise awesomeness, meeting Fall ’14 because they are dope. Honestly just all things Mountain School.”
SH (S’14): “Something that made me really happy was that we kept on running into previous Mountain Schoolers, even as far back as Fall ’88! They would see the banner and stop and talk about how much they loved being at the Mountain School. And then, personally, seeing a lot of people from my semester come to New York and marching the entire length with everyone, and especially the faculty, was so so so amazing and I would do it over and over again.
JP (S’14): “When 400,000 people where quiet all at once, and then from the back of the line we heard this sound and I didn’t know what it was. I thought it was maybe a helicopter flying really low because it was incredibly loud, and it got closer and we realized that it was thousands of people all screaming at the same time. Everybody was screaming and raising their hands in the air and it was the most magical thing I’ve ever experienced. I felt so united with everyone there.”
As for me, my favorite part of the day was walking down a side street to the parade route and being greeted by the Mountain School banner and the alumni cheering for us. It was an amazing moment that I will carry with me for a long time.
Thank you to all the graduates who came out! We loved sharing the experience with you.
*Thank you MS, GZ, LP, and the various S’14 graduates whose photos I pilfered!