Marching for (Climate) Change 2014: Social Movements and the College Student



Throngs of people push through the crowded streets of Manhattan in a sea of colorful protest signs and even more colorful personalities. Amidst the sea of people chanting about “climate justice” and “global drama,” there I am standing among the crowd, dazed and confused. People, young and old alike thrusting signs into the air and chanting enthusiastically about how Obama is ruining the climate and how we must watch and protect the ever-melting icecaps.

As the march begins, everything is pretty straightforward, but as I progress through the crowd, things proceeded to get steadily unclear. Turns out climate justice encompasses pretty much every human rights cause that has ever existed, because the amount of different things people were protesting for varied greatly. There was the man dressed as a banana ranting about why vegan is the right life choice, people chanting about world hunger, signs about the ice caps, girls dressed as mother nature/fairy creatures advocating for the end of global warming, people protesting big business and the oil industry. It just seemed like 400,000 people had gathered with their own different ideal they wanted to advocate and it happened to fall under the giant umbrella of “climate justice.” Still, the Climate March of 2014 took the record for the largest climate-related protest ever held in history.

The great thing about marches is that there is power in numbers. When you gather 400,000 people in a space, people have to notice. It is impossible to ignore that number of people all united under the same (or at least similar) goals. From personal observation, a large percentage of protesters were comprised of young people. Huge groups of college students were all collected together, chanting and wearing matching t-shirts.

Robert Geraci, Ph.D., of Manhattan College’s religious studies department feels that it is vital for youth to take a stand for social change. “As so many people have already learned the lessons of sitting down, staying quiet, and doing what they’re told, we need for young people (who are not yet fully indoctrinated into that) to learn that they can have a real voice and go about using it,” he said.

“There are many college students in the U.S., and among them are most of the best educated and best prepared young people. If they can find a unified voice and stand up in defense of their rights and in solidarity with those less fortunate, they will find that they can pretty well run the place.”

From the turnout at the Climate March, it seems young people are making a comeback on the protesting scene and are slowly becoming more and more socially conscious.

“If all they [students] want is the latest iPhone and to know what’s happening on the latest episode of the Desperate Housewives of New Jersey, then they will find themselves disenfranchised at every turn. I want students to dream big and march for those dreams. If they will, all of us (except maybe the Koch brothers) will cheer at the outcomes,” Geraci said.

However, controversy over the Climate March began almost immediately after it concluded. Viral photos circulated rapidly over Twitter following the end of the event depicting massive amounts of trash and litter left behind by the protesters. Clearly the hypocrisy of that statement is enough to show that some of the protesters are not living the way they are advocating for other people to live. Almost immediately, their advocacy fell through. These actions radically draw away from the true purpose of marches and protests, and are a detriment to advocating people to join in others in the future.

This pattern unfortunately seems to repeat itself among huge events such as the Climate March. It seems that advocacy ends once the crowds clear. I went to the Climate March with my religion class and shortly after the event I never heard any of them talk about it again. Most would say it was a cool experience, but they aren’t climate change pioneers now because of the impact of the march. They aren’t standing in the Quad demanding that people recycle their Starbucks cups. And although this is a shortsighted example, the same can be true for society. It’s as if society gives people one day to get out all of their protests, and then that’s it. They can shut up after that.

If you walk down the Upper East Side I can almost guarantee there aren’t protesters still walking around shouting “Hey Obama, we don’t want no global drama.” The chanting ceased as the crowd dispersed, and now society can enjoy the silence. People will still support big business, even the people that took part in the march, and the cycle will continue. If protesters like those at the Climate March that discarded their signs and trash along the streets they marched on continue their hypocrisy, nothing will ever get better and nothing will change. Students need to become involved in social change, because we are the generation that is rising up to take the place of the previous one.

“[I] consider marching for social causes to be a vital part of a college education. On the one hand, this is because our broader society needs people–perhaps especially people who have flexible schedules–to call attention to injustice and broken social structures. On the other, it is because I think the students themselves learn what it means to be socially aware and constructively engaged by being part of such movements,” Geraci said.

“Further, I think it is a vital part of education to learn what it means to stand up to authority figures. I’m afraid we do a poor job of teaching people that, but the more people who know what it means to push back against the ignorance or hunger for power that characterizes authorities and their ‘just because…’ the better, and the better off, we will all eventually be,” Geraci said.