MONTPELIER — A five-day march from Middlebury to Montpelier to lobby lawmakers on climate change ended Tuesday with a rally downtown, a silent vigil and song session at the State House, and a call to come together for the cause.
Organized by climate activist group 350VT, a core contingent of about 35 people marched the full 65 miles between the two cities, passing through Bristol, Hinesburg, Richmond and Middlesex with many more people joining sections of the march.
When the march reached Montpelier, about 300 people gathered at Christ Church on State Street for a lunch and organizational rally in the sanctuary before marching on the State House, singing and holding banners and symbols of nature.
Inside the State House, there was a silent vigil, followed by communal singing, and the reading of missives on climate change gathered along the march. The activists also called for lawmakers to support three bills, H. 51, to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure in Vermont; H.175, to ban eminent domain, or the seizing of land, for fossil-fuel infrastructure projects; and S. 66, to introduce a multijurisdictional cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
On the march down State Street, 16-year-old Miriam John, a home-schooled student from Worcester, said she got a ride to Middlebury and walked the whole 65 miles to Montpelier.
“It was an amazing community-building event where we’re all coming together to protect the Earth and heal the thousands of years of cultural trauma and make for a better earth and have a future together,” John said.
Tara Bossard-Kruger, 14, of Brattleboro, another home-schooled student, also marched from the start.
“The march has really been an incredible, transformative experience,” Bossard-Kruger said. “We’ve gone through a lot of really interesting issues and found interesting ways to solve them and take a stand to deal with this issue that’s facing all of us.”
Heather Stevenson, of Rutland, is a humanities teacher at The Tutorial Center in Manchester, who walked from Bristol to Hinesburg on Saturday and from the Dairy Creme on Route 2 in Montpelier to the State House on Tuesday.
“I’m really out of shape so it was hard, but I got to carry the sacred water, to recognize our connection to the Earth,” said Stevenson, referring to token symbols of the Earth’s four elements — water, Earth, fire and air — that walkers brought with them. “It was also amazing to see how well-orchestrated everything was and how much work was put into making sure everything was tied to communities that we passed through.”
Stevenson also had high praise for people who organized and participated in the event to lobby lawmakers to respond to climate change.
“I’m impressed at how powerful this was, bringing so many people together in such a peaceful fashion and impress the importance of what we’re trying to do, not just with climate justice, but racial justice and economic justice,” Stevenson said. “We can’t move forward as communities dealing with the poison in a pipeline, for example, unless we bring in everyone who’s affected, the most marginalized voices. So, I think it was a wonderful and very moving experience.”
Jose Ignacio, 23, a migrant worker on a dairy farm in Shoreham, walked from Middlebury to Montpelier to support the call for climate and migrant justice.
Ignacio explained climate change had disrupted weather patterns in his native Mexico, forcing many people like him to seek migrant work in the U.S., adding to problems of migration across the America’s southern border.
“In Mexico, our community where I come from has had to rely on agriculture to survive, growing maize, vegetables and watermelons that have been our subsistence,” Ignacio said through interpreter Will Lambek, of Migrant Justice in Burlington.
“Our ability to grow food has changed. We used to be able to plant and harvest every three months, but now there’s either too much water or too much sun because of climate change,” he continued. “Our crops are also susceptible to plagues that we didn’t see before, so we see plants wither and die.”
Divya Gudur, 19, from San Francisco, is a Middlebury College student studying environmental chemistry and organizer with 350VT. She walked from Bristol to Richmond on Saturday and Sunday.
Gudur said that while students and youth were at the forefront of the climate change movement, she was also encouraged to see widespread support for the march.
“To see support from people of all ages, all colors, all walks of life, and they’re coming to the issue of climate change through so many entry points, it is so important to create that intersectional movement,” Gudur said.
350VT Director Maeve McBride, who made the full walk, said she was heartened by the scale of support for climate activists, saying participants “built a community” along the walk.
“It was just a beautiful culmination of singing and making a statement, but making a statement in love,” she said. “We know that there are many good, wonderful folks in (the State House) that are trying to do the best they can, and we need to do so much more.”
The march ended with a closing ceremony at nearby Christ Church.