Northampton students join Forward on Climate rally in DC
Northampton High School students, from left, Phoebe Jones, Eva Cilman, Maddie Warren, Hannah Levy and Eleanor Pullen, were among many Valley residents to attend a weekend climate change demonstration in Washington, D.C.
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NORTHAMPTON — Among several hundred people from Hampshire County who braved the cold Sunday for a climate change rally were members of the Northampton High School environmental club in the nation’s capital for their first protest.
It likely won’t be their last.
“When it comes down to it, it’s the biggest issue of our generation,” said Northampton High School senior Phoebe Jones, a member of the environmental club, which sold reusable water bottles and baked goods to pay for the bus tickets for five club members to travel to Sunday’s Forward on Climate rally in Washington, D.C.
The event drew more than 35,000 people, according to published reports.
Jones, 18, along with club members Maddi Warren, 17, Hannah Levy, 18, and Eva Cilman, 17, also NHS seniors, met with the Gazette for an interview Monday at Jones’ Harrison Avenue home.
“It was unlike anything I’ve ever been to,” Jones said. “It was huge.”
“Growing up here, you know how many people are supportive of the environment here, but going to a different location entirely and seeing how many people came from all over was really cool,” Warren said.
Inspired by the rally, the club members intend to put their energy to work back in Northampton, doing what they can to make change. They are hoping to implement a composting system in the school cafeteria and get more recycling bins for classrooms. Levy said she is interested in studying and pursuing a career in environmental studies. In fact, she and Cilman are taking a class in environmental studies at Smith College.
Jones, too, is considering environmental studies for college.
“At least for me, other issues just seem so minor compared to the environmental issue,” she said.
The environmental club members were among a group of about 10 from the school who went to the rally. NHS junior Isaac Lello-Smith, whose mother, Denise Lello, helped organize the buses that left from the area to attend the rally, approached the club with the idea of going to the rally.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I was struck by the size and the diversity of the action.”
Lello-Smith, 16, said he believed the rally was successful in spreading the word about climate change and educating people about the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands pipeline. Now he hopes that President Obama rejects the pipeline, which critics say would endanger the environment, and follows up on climate change promises from his inaugural address.
Crowds sparse initially
Jones said when she and her friends arrived at the rally, they were nervous because they only saw a few hundred participants. Later, more people and buses started streaming in. Soon the girls could not even grasp how many people had arrived from where they stood in the middle of the crowd.
They were surrounded by people in polar bear hats, felt the vibrations from drums as people chanted, and saw Nolan Gould from the show “Modern Family.” Jones said she hadn’t expected such energy.
“I thought I would leave feeling sad about the state of our country,” she said. Instead, “it was just so positive and there was so much support.”
“You left with a good feeling,” Warren said.
Cilman said she felt the impact of the large attendance. “It was really exciting to see so many people care about the environment because recently the issue has really been pushed aside,” she said.
Others from Northampton made the trek to the rally as well, including Lilly Lombard, executive director of Grow Food Northampton, there with her family, who said she saw people from western Massachusetts everywhere she turned.
“You could just sense utter commitment and passion that this is the issue of our generation,” Lombard said.
Meanwhile, NHS environmental club members said they took the messages of the speakers at the rally to heart, among them a Native American woman speaking about connections to nature, the director of the Sierra Club discussing his hopes for renewable energy, and an investment banker declaring that the pipeline would not be a good investment.
“It was nice because the speakers were not just saying the terrible things we were doing, but also bringing up that we have been doing things to make a change,” Cilman said.
The students said they came away from the rally hoping to inspire others to get involved in the issue.
“A lot of people think they won’t make a difference, but you will if you really want to. Its not that hard to get involved,” Jones said.