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A 65-mile walk across Vt. takes aim at climate change

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Posted on April 11, 2019 |
By Christopher Ross



Climate walk_5366.jpg
CLIMATE JUSTICE ACTIVISTS walked from Middlebury to Montpelier during the five-day Next Steps Climate Solutions walk. Activists were walking to protest the Vermont legislature’s inaction on climate change issues. Independent photo/Christopher Ross

MONTPELIER — Without a word, more than 300 climate justice activists filed into the Statehouse Tuesday afternoon. The youngest of them, carrying pussy willows, gathered in the center of the first-floor lobby, bathed in warm lamplight, and the rest filled in around them. Members of the press wove themselves into the group, too, jostling and beeping and clicking.

Once everyone had found their place, 600 hands shot into the air with a great swish of windbreaker and raincoat sleeves, and 3,000 fingers began to count down from 10.

The moment between one and zero — between an index-fingered gesture of declamation and a closed-fisted gesture of power — seemed to occupy an eternity, but fists were never used on this day. Instead, those gathered in the lobby, even as they withdrew their hands, renewed themselves with one long breath — and began to sing.

Textured and warm, the sound poured over the lobby and down the halls. The deep pain expressed by the opening stanzas of the song gave way to hope, and then to silence once again.

Then one by one the youngest of them pleaded with their legislators to take immediate action to address climate change.

What was performed in that lobby could have been organized with a simple meeting beforehand, and to some degree it was. Just before their arrival, the singers had gathered nearby in Christ Church to organize themselves into groups that knew where to go and when.

What made that performance powerful, however, was the walking journey that had begun five days and more than 60 miles before.

Tuesday’s Statehouse action was the culmination of the Next Steps Climate Solutions walk, which began in Middlebury this past Friday, April 5.

During the journey walkers highlighted the climate consequences of the build-out of the Vermont Gas pipeline, while also celebrating and promoting examples of climate solutions.

At the Statehouse, an organizer for the group 350 Vermont, which staged the walk, faulted Vermont lawmakers for not taking climate change seriously enough. “Legislators are not acting swiftly to pass a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure or other policies commensurate with the crisis at hand,” said Julie Macuga,  350 Vermont’s Extreme Energy Organizer. “It can’t wait till next session.”

The Addison Independent covered that walk from beginning to end. Check out “Marching on: Dispatches from the climate walk," to see more video, photos and an audio diary that reporter Christopher Ross sent back from the road.

DAY ONE: APRIL 5

THE VANGUARD OF the “Next Steps Climate Solutions walk.” 

Independent photo/Christopher Ross

Middlebury to Bristol (11 miles), Theme: Reunion: building community and relationships.

•The angle of sunlight cast through the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s tall windows during registration.

•Two dozen North Branch School students streaming past those windows on their way into the building.

•Spiritual blessings on the Middlebury Green.

•A narrowing and lengthening of the line when narrow shoulders made single-file walking necessary.

•Children greening up roadsides.

•Damp settling into pants seats during a front-yard lunch on Halpin Road.

•Seemingly endless supplies of bananas cut in half.

•And nearly as many clementines.

•We learn the “noodle” maneuver: crossing in formation from one side of the road to the other.

•Reflective-vested walk marshals with walkie talkies and endless energy.

•Snacks at a round house on River Road.

•We learn to recognize the difference between supportive (beep-beep!) and non-supportive (hooonnnk!) car horns.

•A driver slows down on Route 116 and shouts “carburetors rule!”

•South Street’s steep incline.

•Singers welcoming walkers to Bristol.

•Buzz and chatter over a magnificent potluck supper in Holley Hall.

DAY TWO: APRIL 6

ON SATURDAY CLIMATE justice activists walked from Bristol to Hinesburg, completing the second leg of the five-day Next Steps Climate Solutions walk in the shadow of the Hogback Mountains. The walk began in Middlebury and ended Tuesday in Montpelier. Activists were walking to protest the Vermont legislature’s inaction on climate change issues.

Independent photo/Christopher Ross

Bristol to Hinesburg (17 miles). Theme: Resistance: bearing witness to the Addison County Natural Gas Pipeline.

•A morning blessing offered by Beverly Little Thunder, a two-spirit Lakota Elder from Standing Rock.

•Concerns over whether a rolling coffin, built by local members of Extinction Rebellion, should accompany the walkers. After a meeting of 350 Vermont’s Action Council, a compromise was reached that allowed its inclusion.

•Walking the first half hour in silence, accompanied only by birdsong, barking dogs and passing airplanes.

•Banners catching in tree branches above leading to occasional delays.

•Mountains that seem suddenly to rise over the walkers.

•Shouting and whooping, then singing, after the walking silence is lifted.

•Shouting, too, from a front porch along the way, where two men held a large “Trump 2020” banner.

•Tamales, warm chocolate and doughnuts at Willowwell, provided by Migrant Justice, who expressed solidarity with the walkers.

•We may or may not have taken a shortcut that shaved a mile or so off our route.

•After, walking the path of the new natural gas pipeline, which was installed despite great opposition.

•Children still greening up roadsides.

•“Don’t talk to me. Get off my property.”

•Clouds, endless clouds, and sometimes rain.

•Then sunlight during a visit to Laughing Tree Farm in Monkton, where Jane and Nate Palmer, who kept saying “no” to Vermont Gas Systems’ plans to extend a pipeline through their property. (VGS eventually took “no” for an answer.)

•A brass band near sunset leading the walkers the final mile into Hinesburg.

DAY THREE: APRIL 7

WALKERS PROCEED IN a slow and sometimes painful pace from Hinesburg to Richmond amid the snow-capped Green Mountains on Sunday, the third day of the demonstration.

Independent photo/Christopher Ross

Hinesburg to Richmond (11 miles). Theme: Reimagine: shifting consciousness.

•A ceremony of tears in Hinesburg’s Geprags Park, where Vermont Gas did not take “no” for an answer.

•Grieving, poetry, red clover seeds.

•“You’re all part of an ongoing ritual that never closes.”

•In one pocket, a talisman: a copy of a new Wendell Berry poem that Middlebury College professor Jon Isham had three days before read aloud in tribute to Bill McKibben, which copy included Isham’s reading and pronunciation notes.

•Occasional reminders that walkers should check themselves for ticks.

•A sometimes slow and painful pace.

•Two Canada geese alighting from a nearby wetland, one immediately knocked down by the fence wire it had flown into.

•Rolling hills, generous streams, great broad fields, deep gullies.

•Well-used camera phones.

•“It’s good to see adults collaborating together — usually it’s the kids who are asked to do that.”

•On the hill down into Richmond, a woman passing us in the other direction carrying a sign reading, “Sorry we were rolling drunk on petroleum.”

•Nonviolent direct action training at the Richmond Congregational Church.

DAY FOUR, APRIL 8

FREEZING RAIN BLEW at the walkers on Route 2 for an hour Monday afternoon, but proper headgear kept smiles on Ari Erlbaum's face.

Independent photo/Christopher Ross

Richmond to Middlesex (19 miles). Theme: Recreate: seeking solutions, alternatives, transitions.

•Rain, snow, sleet, rain, wind, sleet, wind.

•Agreement that this was one of the best-organized journeys many people could remember.

•Pleasant surprise about how not-gross the traveling composting toilet was.

•Freezing rain blown at the walkers for an hour on Route 2.

•Crossing the Winooski River on a swaying bridge and walking a portion of the Long Trail.

•Friendships forming.

•More half-bananas magically appearing at snack time.

•The “Solar Bus.”

•A last-minute invitation to eat lunch in the warm, dry cafeteria at Smilie Memorial Elementary School in Bolton.

•A last-minute invitation to enjoy coffee and baked goods in the warm, dry common area of SunCommon’s Waterbury headquarters.

•The seeming defiance with which many walkers chose to walk miles 15–19 instead of taking public transit.

•Addison-4 state Rep. Mari Cordes helping celebrate their arrival into Middlesex.

•Teenagers composing climate justice messages to their legislators.

DAY FIVE, APRIL 9

MORE THAN 300 people gathered at the Statehouse on the final day of the walk.

Independent photo/Christopher Ross

Middlesex to Montpelier (7 miles). Theme: Reform: speaking truth to power.

•Free breakfast at the Red Hen Baking Company.

•More rain.

•Youth contingents from Vergennes Union High School, Middlebury College and from local schools.

•Arthur Blackhawk, a beacon ahead of the marchers, alerting oncoming traffic.

•Banners hung from a bridge over Interstate 89.

•“Our House Is on Fire – Greta Thunberg.”

•“Caution: Climate Crisis Ahead.”

•Speeding, honking traffic below.

•A new roadside Green-Up team. Weirdest find: a basketball.

•300 activists preparing in Christ Church, Montpelier.

•As the Statehouse filled with song, the sight, through leaded window panes, of rain turning to snow.

Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]

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