BY JACKSON COTE
Timmy Sullivan, 19, wants a better future for his planet; Laura Fitch and her husband Lyons Witten, both 57, want better futures for their two sons, ages 20 and 24, and their sons’ children.
Sullivan, Fitch and Witten’s paths converged on a seven-and-a-half-hour bus ride from Amherst to Washington D.C. They were three of 54 activists on bus MA676 to attend the 2017 People’s Climate March on April 29.
The march, which drew over 200,000 people from across the United States and the world—spanning the ages of 17 months to 75 years—was held on President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office. Many activists were there to protest what they consider an onslaught of attacks by the Trump administration on the environment, including rollbacks on environmental regulations and a proposed 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget.
Since the march was organized prior to the election of Trump, protesters were also marching more generally for the fight against climate change. Ironically, protesters marched during a day in which temperatures reached 91 degrees—strikingly hot weather for Washington D.C. in April.
“This is literally why I feel I’m here on this planet, not just in D.C.,” said Sullivan about his personal fight for climate justice, a term that labels climate change as both an ethical and environmental issue.
Leading up to the march, Sullivan, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts and an undersecretary of sustainability for the Student Government Association, said that he was most looking forward to seeing the other people who were marching, including “people from other schools, Native folk, mothers, people with jobs in clean energy and older folk, who’ve been fighting for a while.”
Along with a wide age-range of demonstrators, the march also drew in a racially diverse group of activists, most of whom came from a varied array of groups as well. These included labor and religious organizations, businesses and indigenous tribes from across the globe.
As in recent marches, demonstrators also carried witty, pre-made signs, many of which aimed to be critical of the Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry.
One protester holds up a sign at the 2017 People's Climate March.
Some of them read, “Repeal and replace for fossilocracy,” “Stop the willful ignorance,” “Marching as if the world depends on it” and “Keep Waterworld a crappy 90s movie.”
A more biting slogan directed at the president included, “Federal land grab? I thought you liked grabbing.”
For Fitch and Witten, the signs were one aspect of the march the couple was most looking forward to.
Fitch is a principal at Kraus-Fitch Architects, who specializes in energy-efficient buildings. Witten is a project manager and licensed site professional at New England Environmental, Inc., having managed projects involving water supply wells, hazardous waste sites and landfills.
The two attended the first People’s Climate March in 2014 in Manhattan, which drew over 300,000 demonstrators, and the March for Science last weekend in Boston.
“What’s fun is being with kindred spirits and reading all the funny signs,” said Fitch as she waited for the bus that would take her and Witten from Amherst to Washington D.C. “What’s hard is sleeping on the bus.”
Larry Carter, a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a former Green Party candidate for South Carolina's House of Representatives in 2012, was one of more than 200,000 who marched in the 2017 People's Climate March.
Bus MA676 departed from Amherst at 10:19 p.m. and arrived at approximately 5:30 a.m. Robert Kearns, a sophomore environmental science major at UMass and SGA senator, was the bus’s captain. As a former intern at the Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club, a national organization that organized over 600 buses to the 2017 march, Kearns was charged with organizing bus MA676, which was one of six buses that left from the Massachusetts region.
“Bringing people here to D.C. is planting the seed for activism and getting involved in government and community,” said Kearns.
“It’s really an opportunity for getting people to learn,” he added, as he took an escalator down to the Washington D.C. Metrorail toward the starting point of the march.
Kearns attempted during the bus ride to get the 53 other activists to talk with one another about different environmental issues and organizations that they are a part of. One of these organizations was Environuts, an environmental activism club at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts—six of its members went on bus MA676 to the march.
Next to Kearns on the bus sat the president of Environuts, and Kearns’s cousin, Rose Mastico, a senior psychology major at MCLA.
According to Mastico, Environuts mainly organizes smaller events, such as clean-ups of trails, educational events to teach students about sustainable living and eating and events where the organization would help farmers prepare for winter.
“It’s the biggest trip we’ve ever planned as a club,” said Mastico about Environuts’ participation in the People’s Climate March.
Mastico added, Kearns “is the reason I’m here.”
Initially Mastico attempted to organize a bus for her and the rest of Environuts’ members to take to the event. When that did not pan out, she asked Kearns if she could buy tickets for his bus, and he excitedly said yes.
For both Mastico and Kearns, fighting for the environment has been a big part of their lives and their family’s history. Mastico has been fighting for climate change since she was a kid; both she and her sister were presidents of the recycling club at their high school, and her mom has been a large environmental advocate. Mastico recalled how she always shopped with reusable bags.
Kearns himself attended the 2014 People’s Climate March when he was in high school. He also interned at Sustainable South Shore at that time, a multi-town organization that advocates for environmental conservation and sustainability.
“He’s the most fierce about it,” Mastico said in regards to Kearns’ relationship with fighting for climate justice.
She recalled how throughout her and Kearns life, Kearns would educate her and their family on environmental issues, such as swapping fluorescent light bulbs for LED ones and increasing recycling in his house.
Kearns himself recalled how he brought recycling to his local church. Now, he is connecting different colleges like MCLA to direct action events for environmental causes.
“Connecting different schools is really important,” he said. “It’s great to have Rose here.”
At 11:30 a.m., Kearns with Mastico and nearly all of bus MA676’s activists, started marching at the intersection of 4th Street SW and Jefferson Drive SW, moving toward the United States Capitol.
Amidst marchers drumming, dancing, playing the guitar and the trombone, Kearns held a Sierra Club Massachusetts banner with UMass freshman environmental science major Christopher Clark and junior English and journalism double-major Fitzgerald Pucci.
Pucci was also engaging in chants with a crowd of protesters near him and other UMass students, as the march stalled and the heat overwhelmed demonstrators.
UMass junior Fitzgerald Pucci gets a crowd of fellow marchers to chant with him.
“What do we want?” asked Pucci. Others answered, “Climate justice!” He asked again, “When do we want it?” and over approximately 40 of the demonstrators answered in shouts, “Now!”
For Clark, an SGA undersecretary of sustainability who had done small protests regarding the environment in high school and other activism work, the larger-scale nature of the climate march was inspiring.
“We’re all hot. We’re all sweaty. We’re all tired. But we’re all doing it,” Clark said.
"The ones who have the biggest stake are the ones who aren't born yet."
Clark wants to pursue a career in the EPA in policy making, so seeing the sheer number of demonstrators protesting issues, such as global warming and climate action, reaffirmed his passions.
“It gives me hope that what I’m studying matters,” Clark said.
He added that this fight is not just for him, but for future generations, “The ones who have the biggest stake are the ones who aren’t born yet.”
UMass freshman Chris Clark (right) and sophomores Marissa Mackson (center) and Lauren Healey (left) hold up a banner for the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club.
From Jefferson Drive SW, marchers turned left onto 3rd Street SW, and shortly turned another left onto Pennsylvania Avenue NW, which would make up most of the approximately two-and-a-half-mile march, which would continue onto either 15th or 17th Street NW and end at the Washington Monument.
This was also the point when individuals on the street could see the most demonstrators, and for Kearns, this was his favorite moment of the event: Just “seeing the different segments of protestors, indigenous and frontline communities being impacted by climate change, labor organizations and students,” he said.