Alexandra Rather is the president of Coal Free Mizzou. She is a senior at MU majoring in international studies with a Latin American emphasis.
The rally in DC on February 17, which brought together more than 50,000 people, was a demonstration aimed at urging President Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline. This pipeline would transport tar sands oil and domestic oil running from Alberta, Canada, through the Ogallala Aquifer, all the way to Nebraska and eventually end at the oil refineries in Texas. Due to the environmental damage and social injustice to the various Native American and First Nation peoples of Canada, we gathered in DC on Sunday, 50,000 strong, to make our voices heard.
I went to the last DC rally in 2011 and I was amazed and inspired by the 12,000 people I linked arms with around the White House, but that experience could not compare to the one I had on Sunday. The original goal for this rally was to get 10,000 people in DC, which quickly turned into 20,000, and about halfway through the speakers we were told there were 50,000 of us. I was blown away by the fact that, even though I couldn’t see them, I was standing in front of 50,000 other people all there, fighting for the same thing. This march is the largest march for climate justice in history. What’s even more exciting is that I got to make history with 110 other Missouri students!
Earlier that morning, around 9:30 a.m., over 2,000 young people joined together at the National Youth Convergence hosted by the Sierra Club. Young people have a special role in this fight because this is the fight of our generation and generations to come. The decisions we make as young people, and grow up to practice and teach, will affect all of the generations to come after us. This is one of the reasons that campus work is so important. Students are our future teachers, doctors, lawyers, administrators, policy makers, and if we choose to act for climate justice, then others will follow. Universities set the trend for policies in states and the more that students stand up for more comprehensive and effective environmental regulations and promote sustainable ways of life, the student voice will be heard across the state.
We’ve already seen on Mizzou’s campus what student power can do. Take the MoreforLess Campaign as an example. Over 6,000 petitions signed within a few weeks time and those who represented the student voice and lobbied at the capital got back millions of dollars that would have otherwise been cut from our higher education budget. Very rarely do I see a mass student mobilization and momentum like that except within the environmental movement.
The speakers on Sunday included Michael Brune, Director of the Sierra Club who as also arrested the week before to protest the pipeline, Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org who was also arrested, Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr., President and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, a Senator from Rhode Island,
Rosario Dawson, Van Jones and many leaders of the First Nations people of Canada. All of the speakers on Sunday were inspiring on a number of levels and there were quite a few things said that really stuck with me. Reverend Lennox Yearwood Jr. compared our generation’s fight for climate justice and against climate change to the civil rights movement. In reference to those who came before he said, “...they fought for equality and we fight for existence.” Later, a leader of the First Nations people said, “You can’t eat money and you can’t drink oil.” There were many other fantastic and blood boiling quotes but these are just a few that stuck with me.
The energy at that rally is also something that has stuck with me. Many activists, including myself, see this time in our history, as what an activist friend of mine has called a “social tipping point.” Never before has this number of people, old and young, come together to march for climate justice. I got to meet so many people from so many different places. I chatted with a freshman from Yale while we were waiting to use a restroom, I marched with a dozen Sierra Student Coalition/Sierra Club staffers from across the country, and I sat with a student group from New York on the metro on our way to the national monument. Our momentum is growing, both nationally and in our own states which is specially important in state likes Missouri that, while we don’t mine our own coal, we meet 80% of our energy needs by burning coal.
This is the fight of my generation and everything I do today will affect the generations to come decades from now. I want to be able to look my children and my nieces and nephews in the eye and tell them that I did everything I could to secure a clean and just future for them and their children.