Michigan Student Sustainability Coalition

Unifying the voice of a generation in environmental solidarity

MI Students at the #ForwardOnClimate Rally

on February 19, 2013

This past weekend Michigan students stood in solidarity with 40,00+ people asking President Obama to take immediate action on climate change, starting by rejecting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. With support from the National Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club, the MSSC was able to take 55 students to this event in DC, representing Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, Central Michigan University, Grand Valley State University, and Ferris State University.

After a 12 hour bus ride, we arrived in the city to start the rally near the Washington Monument. We heard from speakers such as the Sierra Club’s Michael Brune and Chief Jacqueline Thomas from the Sai’quz First Nation, and then proceeded to march around the White House with the crowd to demonstrate our power and size.

Here are some pictures that capture our time in DC!

CMU Students with their signs

CMU Students with their signs


Photo from Luke Dzwonkowski, MSU Student

the MI student parachute- photo by Anna Daves, GVSU student

the MI student parachute- photo by Anna Daves, GVSU student

Check out some more great photos from the Energy Action Coalition here! Will Jones, one of our students from EMU, was also featured on NPR yesterday, calling on President Obama to “man up and make a decision”

Perspectives and Thoughts:

Being from Michigan, most of us know first hand of the devastation that tar sands oil can bring. After spilling over a million gallons of tar sands in to the Kalamazoo River in 2010, Enbridge is still trying to clean up this mess. In addition to this clean up, they’re also trying to increase (double, actually) the amount of tar sands oil that flows through MI via a series of underground pipeline networks. All of us agree that pipeline regulations and safety standards are nowhere near where they need to be in order to protect our state from another spill, and these pipelines pose a huge threat to the Great Lakes.

Maybe it is because of our knowledge of this destruction that several students were struggling with the overall tone of the rally. Although we all thought it was necessary to pump people up (and warm them up!) with exciting music and speakers, some were confused as to why Eve was chosen to perform, and mainstream music was played throughout the event. Admittedly, after hearing two speakers from First Nation groups in Canada talk about how tar sands is literally killing and sickening wildlife and children, it did feel a little strange to participate in such a celebratory event. For many of us, this fight is far from over, and being so jubilant felt a little at odds with all the work we have left to do and the seriousness of this issue. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since leaving DC, and I’d like to offer a perspective on why I think the rally was organized the way it was.

I think that the organizers of this event really wanted President Obama to feel like he is on the winning side by rejecting the KXL pipeline. Instead of framing ourselves as a group of protestors on the fringe, it may have been a smart move to align ourselves more with the mainstream and give this event a tone of victory so that Obama feels he will be supported in this decision. I think that by appealing to the mainstream, this event can be seen as more powerful, as it’s no longer just a few “crazy college kids”, but an overwhelming group made up of families, youth, professionals, farmers, ranchers, native peoples, musicians, religious groups, a wide array of non-profits, and people representing many different social issues connected to climate change.  Hopefully President Obama will review photos and footage of this event (as he was in FL golfing with Tiger Woods that day…) and see an amazingly diverse and energized movement of people that are serious about climate change and confident in his ability to make a positive impact. I do, however, think that the organizers of this rally could have done a better job of communicating the intended tone to the people who were there.

They also did take time to set up a more serious and somber action- this past Wednesday 48 people locked themselves to the White House gates and were arrested there demanding that President Obama take action and reject the KXL Pipeline. Included in these arrests were top leaders from environmental organizations, individuals impacted by Sandy, farmers and ranchers from TX where KXL is being built, indigenous leaders from Alberta, Canada where tar sands are being mined, and many others. Hopefully this was an event that  can create a seriousness that perhaps the rally did not emphasize, and the combination of the two events can represent our well rounded and serious movement.

If anyone else has thoughts about how this event went or what it said about our movement, please comment to continue the discussion! But regardless of how it all went down, its clear that our movement is at its largest and most momentous point.  I read a really great article by CNN today about how the grassroots are absolutely necessary if we want to win this climate fight, so I’m confident that the actions we are taking today will make our future a better place.

Overall, this was a very inspiring and uplifting event for many students involved. Marissa Solomon, a student leader from the University of Michigan says that “marching in solidarity with 50,000 people of different cultures, parties, and backgrounds was the best feeling ever. This weekend showed me that no matter where you come from or what you believe, we can all agree that the climate matters.”

The MSSC will do all that we can to continue this work and take action around many serious issues. If you are interested in working with other students to make this happen, please sign up to join one of our working groups!


One response to “MI Students at the #ForwardOnClimate Rally

  1. Mariah Urueta says:

    This article is wonderful. We had a bus full of passionate and dedicated students, and it was exhilarating to march and chant with that mass amount of people! I do agree that the the vibe was puzzling; it seemed to be celebratory, however, we still have so much work ahead of us. I think it’s fair to say that by attempting to make it “mainstream” we can reach a wider range of people. Then again, were we using the same means of the system which we’re trying to combat? Very thought provoking and a great article for both sides of the spectrum (:

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