Cornell students swelter in D.C. to cool a warming Earth

Alec Martinez
Leo Levy/Provided
Alec Martinez '18 joins the spirited chanting at the Peoples Climate March on April 29 in Washington.

More than 100 Cornell undergraduate students joined 200,000 green advocates to parade down Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue for the Peoples Climate March April 29 – in sultry heat – to advocate for rescuing the world from environmental deterioration.

“This was my first time in D.C., which was super exciting. I’m from the Maldives, a low-lying island nation that is in great risk of disappearing due to rising sea levels. The Peoples Climate March was very important to me because I felt I was there not just for myself, but for my people as well,” said Hassan Saleem ’20. “It was inspiring to see the sheer level of support for climate justice in the number of people who turned out. There really is a lot at stake, not just for island folk like me, but the whole world.”

The march’s atmosphere was one of warmth and good spirit. Jenny Xie ‘20, for example, saw a North Carolina group asking for volunteers to assemble banners. “There were 200 flags that needed to be put together and carried. In any other scenario, finding 200 volunteers would have been difficult, but within an hour all flags were assembled with the help of strangers,” she said. “I think seeing that kindness and willingness to help was refreshing in this political climate, which can feel isolating for many people. I think we need more of that, especially now.”

Climate march in D.C.
Leo Levy/Provided
In Washington's unusual, springtime hot and humid conditions April 29, Brendon Brown '18, left, Elizabeth Couse '19 and Daniel Szabo '18 march down Pennsylvania Avenue.

High temperatures in Washington roasted the climate marchers. Early afternoon temperatures soared to the upper 80s, with a heat index above 90 all afternoon. The thermostat tied a 1974 record high 91-degree temperature around 4 p.m., according to Cornell’s Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Two buses full of Cornell students left Ithaca at 2 a.m. Saturday, arrived in Washington at 9:30 a.m. and met near the U.S. Capitol. The march began at 12:30 p.m. and arrived at the Washington Monument a few hours later.

Elizabeth Chi ’18, a trip organizer, recounted a festive atmosphere of dancing and cheer among the marchers, all while chanting messages.

“There were so many different people from all walks of life: grandparents marching for their grandchildren, scientists, indigenous people and students,” said Stevanica Augustine ’19. “Climate change affects everyone on this planet. The fact that the march was so diverse illustrated this global issue. It was one of the most powerful things I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of.”

Cole Norgaarden ‘17, a trip organizer, said rallies and marches don’t necessarily result in concrete solutions or legislation: “It’s not a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Registering dissent, building networks, forming coalitions and everything else that will come out of this Peoples Climate March paves the way for bold future action and mobilizing grassroots efforts.”

Jacqueline Wong and Hassan Saleem
Emma Badini/Provided
Jacqueline Wong '20 and Hassan Saleem '20, along with 200,000 others, walk down Pennsylvania Avenue. Saleem hopes that climate change does not wash out the Maldives - his home.

Other trip organizers were Julie Kapuvari ’19 and Brendon Brown ’18; Taryn Mattice, chaplain in Cornell United Religious Work’s Protestant Cooperative Ministry; Sarah Brylinsky and Kim Anderson of the Campus Sustainability Office; and Manny Ventura, (father of Kelly Ventura ’17) owner of K&V Limousine Service, who discounted his bus rates for students attending the march.

For Chi, the march provided motivation to move forward: “We cannot let the reality of climate change crush our spirits or our will to fight,” she said. “The Peoples Climate March showed that different communities are uniting under one cause. Climate change can be a uniting force instead of a dividing one.”

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