Walking the Walk: Climate Day of Action

On September 20th, 2019, a strange thing happened. All around the world, people left their places of work and study and headed to popular meeting points in their towns and cities. Among them were students, teachers, managers, workers, moms, dads, grandparents, children, politicians, doctors, the unemployed. Estimates place these crowds at around 6 million though those estimates can vary by over a million more. The truth is, we may never know how many people gathered to demand action on one of the biggest issues of our time: climate change.

Here in misty little Keshena, WI, the green jewel of the Midwest that is home to the main campus of the College of Menominee Nation, people took to the streets as well.

“As leaders in education, we need to ‘walk the walk” and lead the efforts so that our students can create the vision that generates real change,” said Rebecca Edler, sustainability coordinator at the College of Menominee Nation.

It was Rebecca who approached me the week before the Global Climate Action to ask what I knew about similar efforts here. She sat down with us in a small group in the main room of the Sustainable Development Institute and we discussed the pros and cons of participating. Our school regularly does things called Flash Walks– a mental and physical health exercise intended to reduce stress and improve fitness by getting folks to take a nice walk around our lovely campus. Rebecca put out the call and a group assembled, banner in hand, to bring awareness to an issue that we have all spent many hours agonizing over. It was Friday, which is usually a less populated day on campus because of fewer classes. Nonetheless, some students showed up, as did folks from a variety of departments. The group marched around the campus and along the main highway that connects the major towns of the reservation to the border town to the south. Passersby sounded their horns in support.

I will admit now that I had concerns about it. As high a priority as our school makes of environmental stewardship and sustainability, I know firsthand how even the best institutions can grow wary of social justice demonstrations on campus, especially in light of today’s tense political climate. Seeing the group that assembled, I felt foolish to doubt my school’s commitment for even a moment.

“I felt it was the right thing to do,” said Adam Schulz, 2018-2019 student government President. “If taking a few minutes out of my day and marching to bring awareness to the effects of climate change got even one person’s attention, then it was time well spent.”

At the Green Bay climate demonstration, I was informed that some of the schools had informed their students that they would not be punished if they chose to participate. This is a far cry from my days as a young student demonstrator, when the threat of expulsion was feverish and real, even as others high up the chain told me “you have to do what you think is right.” The young students that I met at the march in Green Bay stood so bravely, spoke so brightly, articulating their concerns with an earnestness that is sorely lacking in so many of today’s important conversations.

Greta Thunberg, the young leader who crossed an ocean to have this important conversation, once asked what the point was of going to school to prepare for a future that might very well be in jeopardy. There are times when I and my friends have wondered the same thing, knowing that we are locked away in our libraries, working on projects to bring change with grantwork and measurements while our relatives and neighbors are out there on the front lines of fights all over the country, trying to protect the sacred with their bodies, their voices, with whatever they have. In times like that, I have to remind myself that there are so many ways to protect– as many as there are protectors. They will sing at the front lines and their songs will give us comfort as we toil away in our libraries. And then there will be those beautiful times when we come together, arm-in-arm, to wield our individual strengths and speak as one voice:

Show me what democracy looks like.

This is what democracy looks like.

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