Over this past weekend, a group of friends and I took a trip up to DC. Part vacation, part business, part activism this trip quickly became one of those experiences I knew I would never forget.
Student Network Activist Convergence: SNAC!
After a full day exploring on Friday and a full night of sleep (highly debatable), we woke up Saturday ready for the conference. Today’s trainings took place at the Greenpeace action warehouse outside of DC. It’s basically Greenpeace’s main storage area for its equipment/vehicles and its place for action trainings. There’s a ton of goodies if you take a second to look around… costumes, hazmat suits, industrial climbing gear. After the short drive from Capital Hill, we parked our sweet Chevy Volt next to the Warehouse and walked in for breakfast.
Since this was technically the first day of the conference, we went through introductions then did an ice breaker called “Winds of Change.” One thing that environmental activists don’t lack (besides an absurd amount of passion), is a list of cool icebreakers.
First on our agenda was to meet Phil Radford, the executive director of Greenpeace USA. It would be an understatement to say that he was inspiring. He gave some background on career with Greenpeace then talked about the history of the Freedom Fighters and tied it in to our current battle on climate change. In his words, “It’s time to get on the bus.” What a way to start the day. As lunch was being prepared, we toured the rest of the warehouse (industrial climbing room) and grabbed our pile of schwagg from Greenpeace.
The Power of Networking
After lunch, we participated in some trainings led by the Greenpeace student board and some Greenpeace staff. I can’t describe how awesome it was to be back in the Warehouse in a training led by Justin from the Greenpeace Semester. He gave us an overview of campaign/organizational goals and the subtle, but important difference between strategy and tactics. Good stuff.
We then broke out into groups based off the campaigns we were running back on our campuses; everything from divestment to Duke to clean energy. Dan Cannon knew a group of students that was considering running a green fund campaign and since we had experience with this type of campaign, we grouped up and talked through their green fund campaign. This was one of my favorite parts of the conference. We learned so much from running our SSI Campaign that I was thrilled to share our experience with another group.
Next up was a group training down on the warehouse floor. The trainers instructed us to grab a partner and to stand ten feet apart so that everyone would form a long tunnel. They repeatedly tried to quiet us down and reiterated how serious of a training this was. I was pretty sure we were going to do some sort of role-play with de-escalation tactics. But then…
“I’m gonna pop some tags…”
What?! “Thrift Shop” blasted over the warehouse speakers and the two people at the start of the tunnel started dancing down to the end. I think it blew everyone’s mind. I for sure didn’t see it coming.
The SNAC dance party that ensued for the next fifteen minutes was so much fun. However, we didn’t converge in DC for a dance party. After we settled down, James Brady (actions coordinator) gave us a fairly in depth Nonviolent Direct Action training. Most of it was familiar from my summer program with Greenpeace, but I still learned a lot from the various activities we did. He started with a video on the Nashville sit-ins, which was led by students and founded on nonviolent principles. It’s incredible to see what these students went through just to desegregate the downtown lunch counters. Their seemingly limited victory, however, inspired others to stand up and ultimately fully desegregate all of Nashville. At the conclusion of the video, James led us through a discussion on the nonviolent tactics used by the students and then put us in a role-play. One group of us was attempting to blockade an entrance, while the other group pretended to be the police. Although it’s hard to make it feel exactly like a real blockade, you learn so much from just attempting to put yourself in the mindset of the protestors and the police.
By this time, our secret supper was almost ready. All of my inside sources refused to tell me what was cooking, so I had to wait in anticipation. We were finally let into the kitchen and discovered some incredible vegan chili with quinoa noodles. Judge all you want, but you should be jealous. This meal was incredible.
Night Out in the City
Since we drove to the warehouse instead of riding the metro, we helped clean up the warehouse (and clean out the ice cream sandwiches in the freezer. Score!). A couple of the Greenpeace student board members needed a ride downtown, so we squeezed them into the Volt and headed back to the Capitol. After dropping them off and one of our own, the three of us (Lisa, Rachel, and I) made our way to meet up with Lisa’s friend that was also in town for the rally. The rest of the night was entirely open. A free night in DC with a sweet ride and some awesome friends? Doesn’t get much better.
We drove over to the National Mall and hit up so many monuments. Our first stop was the Lincoln memorial and the reflection pool. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln memorial where MLK gave his “I have a dream speech” and looking out toward the Washington monument is surreal. This is where history is made. We then circled the reflection pool and saw the Vietnam Memorial, WWII Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, MLK Memorial, and FDR Memorial.
Our time at the Jefferson memorial was the most memorable though. When we finally made the long walk to the memorial and ascended the steps, only one other group was at the monument besides us. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since it was freezing outside and around midnight at this point. Then, all of a sudden, a couple from the other group started dancing and a guy came out of nowhere with an acoustic guitar. Snap. They danced right next to the memorial then moved out to the steps and the guy started singing to his girl. I have to admit it was pretty romantic with the epic Jefferson memorial lit up and the quiet city night. We’re pretty sure he proposed.
After our last stop, at the “Make Your Own Memorial” we drove back to the church to rest up for the big rally.
Tens of Thousands Raise their Voices
Roughly four hours of sleep later, we woke up ready to go. We headed out to Union Station and made our way to the Greenpeace office in Chinatown. Along the way, I stopped by Starbucks to grab a green tea frapp just like old times. I never thought I would be at the Starbucks in DC getting a green tea frapp ever again, yet alone walking into the Greenpeace office for trainings with it. I couldn’t help but smile.
After a short time at the office, the whole group made its way to the W hotel for a national youth convergence of environmental activists. Bill McKibben apparently wanted to see what was up and stopped in for a few minutes. He walked so close to me I could have tripped him… if I had wanted to. But I didn’t. All of the speakers at the youth convergence were students that had done incredible things at their campuses. It was really inspiring to be among so many amazing people.
And at last, it was game time. To the National Mall!
Since this was my first major rally, I came in not knowing what to expect. It was really crazy to see so many people just as passionate about climate change as I was. Despite the cold, the energy at the rally was incredible. Before the rally started, a DJ came and played a mashup of songs to pump us up. He played a U2 song, Sunday Bloody Sunday. That was all I needed. Let’s Go!
Once the rally officially started, Rev Yearwood from the Hip-Hop Caucus came out and pumped up the crowd. He then introduced speakers as they came up. As expected, all of the speeches were inspiring and it was especially cool to see some native tribes from Canada come down to speak. An hour or so later, the march started and around 40,000 of us headed down the street to march around the White House. Unfortunately, President Obama was out golfing with oil executives, but let’s not get into that…
One of my favorite parts of the rally was hearing all of the chants… “Hey! Obama… We don’t want no climate drama.” to “Tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!!”. It was so much fun. The group of Clemson students that I was with during the rally somehow ended up getting all the way to the front, where all of the media was taking footage of Bill McKibben and the main speakers as they led the march with tens of thousands behind them. So cool.
At the front, we also happened to bump into the director of the Sierra Club Michael Brune. Sweet!
Once we made it back to the National Mall, our group headed out to the metro station to start our trek back home. What a weekend!