by Vanessa Russell '18, Biological Sciences
I have always loved the outdoors. Growing up, my mom took my sisters and me camping every summer. Hiking, biking and other activities that keep me outside have sustained my intrigue of the natural world around me. It wasn’t until my senior year at Laconia High School when I began to pay more attention to the quality of environments and the need to protect them. As I got older and declared my major in Biological Sciences with a concentration in environmental science and conservation, I was constantly on the lookout for new opportunities to work in this field.
After a summer of intense and fulfilling hands on field work in Hopkinton, N.H. and Ely, Minn., I was in search of my next outdoor adventure. I decided to do some searching at a Volunteer Fair being held on campus. This is where I found NextGen Climate.
NextGen Climate is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works hard to educate the public about climate change issues through community events and political means. At the fair I learned there were paid fellowships available, and I knew I had to jump at the opportunity. I am so glad I did.
Through my time as a fellow, from October 2015 to February 2016, I learned more than I thought I would, met so many different kinds of wonderful people and experienced new things that I was closed off to before. On November 7, 2015, a bunch of vehicles carrying climate activists, myself being one of them, headed down to Washington, D.C. for three days of experiences ending with the Our Generation, Our Choice rally to promote racial, political and climate justice.
I had never been to D.C., a rally or traveled 12 hours in a car with people I had never met before. I was excited and nervous. The first day consisted of travel. We arrived in D.C. around 9 p.m. at a local church that allowed us to sleep in their event space. The next day consisted of teaching events and exercises to learn more about social justice topics, build team skills, what a rally consists of and, overall, meeting new people and making friends.
The last day was the rally. I was open to the experience and couldn’t wait to participate. We met at a park to hear people speak on social injustices, how the current government is failing us and how important it is to preserve the climate. The rally left the park, about 500 people marching and chanting. The goal was to march until we were in front of the White House, stop to make our voices heard and then continue back to the park to complete the loop.
It was a powerful experience. People were shouting rally chants like “No justice, No Peace!” and “What do we want? CLIMATE JUSTICE! When do we want it? NOW!” Other chants and songs filled the streets. People in office buildings and on the street stopped to watch us go by. My heart raced, and my voice was loud. It was a successful march.
I learned that in order to make real change, we need to join up with other passionate, like-minded people and act. No action equals no results. If I want to invoke change, I must stand up and actually do something about it. I plan to carry this mindset for the remainder of my academic and professional career.
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