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Next Steps walkers cross a bridge over I-89 in Middlesex just after a banner drop.

Voices / Dispatch

‘We walk with a common clarion call for change’

A Brattleboro participant chronicles Next Steps, a recent five-day walk designed to deepen connections with one another and with the land, to celebrate climate solutions, and to grieve the damage to our planet

Marisa Keller served as the walk chronicler of The Next Steps Climate Walk, organized by 350 Vermont, the statewide climate activism group of which she is a member. This piece is a compilation of excerpts from her daily blog posts of the five-day journey from Middlebury to Montpelier from April 5 to 9. Some 300 people walked at least part of the way; on average, more than 100 walked on a given day. Keller is a member of 350 Brattleboro and of 350 Vermont’s Writers for Climate Justice. Read more at 350vermont.org/category/blog.

Friday, April 5

We gathered on the Middlebury Green, in Vermont, in the Abenaki land of Ndakinna. Each of us arrived in the middle of our own personal story, a piece of the greater story of humans in relation to the Earth.

As we gathered, our stories began to intertwine. In the opening ceremony, we honored our power to shape the story that is still unfolding.

Bill McKibben spoke the last few words.

“We’re all going to have to go on strike in one way or another, to disrupt business as usual,” he said. “Because it is precisely business as usual that’s wrecking the planet.”

We set off to learn about ourselves, to learn about each other, to find transformation, and to remind our political leaders with spirit, humor, and fierceness that climate action is essential.

Saturday, April 6

Today’s theme was Resistance, and we bore witness to the common threads of many struggles.

We started the morning in snowy Bristol with our own small struggle: Should we welcome into our walk a mock coffin symbolizing the death of our future?

Some spoke out strongly that they were walking for life, not death. Others felt that it was an appropriate symbol of mourning for the destruction the Earth has suffered.

After listening to the group and calling for a show of hands for and against, our Action Council decided that we would walk with the coffin for part of the day. The folks who had volunteered as “community tenders” went to offer support to those who had expressed their discomfort at the idea.

Folks from Migrant Justice brought us delicious tamales for lunch, and they spoke to our shared fight.

One woman told us how her father and grandfather had grown beautiful watermelons in Tabasco, Mexico, until the oil company Pemex came in, started buying up much of the land, and began polluting the rest. And so they came to the U.S. in search of a better life.

We also experienced resistance from others along our walk, from the men who stood in their yard with a Trump 2020 banner to the man who yelled, “The future is bright, pessimists!” and ordered us off of his property when one of us approached him to talk.

Mostly, though, drivers honked and waved as they went by.

Sunday, April 7

When was the last time you cried in public? For many of us on the walk, it was this morning, at Geprags Park in Hinesburg.

There, in a ceremony that marked the transition from resistance and mourning to the day’s theme of Reimagine, we sang together and created a space for grieving and letting go with a Ceremony of Tears.

Most of us don’t learn to process our feelings in public. It’s scary and uncomfortable. But at the same time, it feels important to bring up and let go of our pain (and the anger and frustration that come from it) before we start talking about the future we want to create.

What do you imagine when you think of an ideal future? We walk with a common clarion call for change, but the next step is to come up with alternatives.

Not all of us look at the problem the same way or are willing to make the same sacrifices. Large-scale change requires large-scale buy-in.

And as we all take our next steps along the path forward, it helps keep us together if we are willing to engage in an alternative, even if it makes us uncomfortable — like sharing our feelings in an unfamiliar ceremony.

Monday, April 8

Middles are hard. We’ve walked and walked and walked. And when the wake-up bell rings at 6 a.m. on Day 4, we get up and get ready to walk some more.

It’s a chilly, rainy day, and we have 19 miles to travel. Our group is smaller today — we’ve lost many folks to jobs and classes, though many promised to come back for the final day tomorrow.

Today’s theme is Re-creation. It’s hard, however, to think about much of anything when you’re squinting into the rain and trying not to get blown off the road.

We turn inward, stop waving to cars, lose track of our grand purpose. We become just a bunch of people bundled up in hats and raincoats hurrying down Route 2.

Moments like these will happen many times along our road to climate justice.

Middles are messy. Sometimes you stop thinking about the next day’s Statehouse action and ongoing fossil-fuel resistance.

And sometimes you just have to live for the moments when you’re stumbling along through the pelting hail and turn to your neighbor in line, smile, and say, “Makes you feel good to be alive, doesn’t it?!” and they grin back, and you go on together.

Tuesday, April 9

Today, we flooded the Statehouse with silence, song, and the voices of youth calling for action to protect the Earth and their future and to ban new fossil-fuel infrastructure.

Over the course of this walk, approximately 300 people have walked — some for one day, others all the way.

But they are only the visible tip of the iceberg.

The folks who planned the logistics, the folks who drove the support vehicles, the folks in communities along the way who spread an incredible feast in front of us everywhere we stopped, the sponsor folks who donated funds and snacks, the folks who sheltered us from the rain, the folks who fed our cats or cared for our children or covered for us at work while we walked, and the news media who are telling our stories — all these people were part of the walk, too.

And we walk as part of the global climate-justice movement. We walk in solidarity with racial justice and economic justice and migrant justice. We walk with all the other movements working to lift up oppressed and marginalized people.

An experience like the walk sparks instant connections and lasting bonds.

But if you didn’t walk, please know that this is not an exclusive club. There is room for you, and we welcome you.

We may not be walking the road to Montpelier anymore, but we are still walking the road to climate justice and a better future for all — through sun and wind and rain and hail.

We look forward to joining in community with you somewhere along the way.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #507 (Wednesday, April 24, 2019). This story appeared on page D1.

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