Protestors March 65 Miles from Middlebury to Montpelier as Part of Climate Solutions Walk


Middlebury Sunday Night Environmental Group

A map of the route of the Climate Solutions Walk.


The protesters stood in a circle on the Middlebury Town Green, holding their handmade signs high: “Every Day is Earth Day,” said one; “Got Emissions?” read the text beneath a cow-patterned milk jug; an arrow pointing to a hand-painted globe declared, “I’m with her.”

United by their shared desire to take action against climate injustice, Middlebury College students joined community members for the kickoff of the Climate Solutions Walk that took place this past weekend. The crowds took to the hills, inspired by the young legislators propelling the Green New Deal forward in Congress and the teenagers strengthening the climate movement around the world. Their goal, in solidarity with Vermont’s native communities, was to recognize the climate emergency. The activists hoped to celebrate solutions to this emergency while also grieving the damage it has already caused.

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
Students and Community members set off on the 5-day trek.

The walk, a 5-day, 65-mile trek from Middlebury to Montpelier, began on a windy, overcast Friday morning, but people chatted enthusiastically in spite of the sharp breeze and the rain forecast for the next several days. Most of them wore winter coats, knit caps, waterproof shoes, and backpacks. Some wielded cloth signs with “Climate Justice for Us” printed in bright colors around a drawing of a flower. Others pinned smaller “Climate Justice” signs to their backs and wore them like capes.

Organizers structured the kickoff as an interfaith ceremony of opening and reunion, and asked those present to call out brief invocations as they were moved to. Among the shouted phrases were: high peaks, love, my daughters, facts, climatic freedom, justice, transformation, tenderness, resistance against extinction, power of the people, resilience, hope, wilderness, gratitude, earth, compassion, reciprocity, clean water, and joy.

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
Divya Gudur ’21, a student organizer of the walk, participates in an opening interfaith ceremony.

Four people then blessed the natural elements, each represented by an object resting on a cloth square in the center of the circle: shreds of fabric tied to a stick, a candle inside a lantern, a clear vase of water, and a potted plant. Divya Gudur ’21, one of the student organizers of the march, invoked Hinduism as she blessed the fire.

The speakers asked people to call out their intentions for the walk. Responses included: the power of the climate movement, awareness of the precious earth, healing, make our concerns visible, for the sake of future generations, giving truth to power, embodying our nature, my grandson, waking up, visibility, relationships, connection, going deeper, amplifying solutions, finding new directions, living by example, remembering what it means to be a true steward of this land, and being thankful.

Environmental journalist and activist Bill McKibben, co-founder of and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury, concluded the kickoff.

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
Students and community members gather to call for climate change action.

“As we walk, think about the people—even in the last two weeks—the people in the Midwest who dealt with floods like they’ve never seen before, lost their cattle, lost their crops, lost their homes,” McKibben said, going on to outline some of the countless instances of suffering caused and exacerbated by climate change.

“Think about the people in Mozambique, who two weeks ago suffered what they’re now describing as the worst natural disaster in the history of the Southern Hemisphere, when a cyclone smashed into Mozambique and Malawi and Zimbabwe and left a thousand people dead, and huge areas just turned into malarial lakes,” McKibben urged. “Think about the people in Iran, where they’re having the worst flooding right now they’ve ever had, every region of the country under an emergency order.”

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
Protestors embark on the climate solutions walk.

McKibben left his speech with words to keep the climate activists motivated even when their feet tired of walking: “Something like that now happens every single day. Someplace in the world people get their Irene now, every day. That’s what happens when you change the atmosphere.”

This walk follows in the footsteps of another climate march, from the Robert Frost Cabin in Ripton to Burlington, organized by McKibben in 2006.

“Middlebury—college and town—has been a real cradle of the climate movement,” McKibben wrote in an email to The Campus. “Because it has the oldest environmental studies department in the world, it naturally focused on these issues before others did.”

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
A child reads to the student and community activists before the walk.

McKibben also described the residents of the town of Middlebury and of the state of Vermont as key players in the climate movement. He offered less credit to the state of Vermont, writing “Vermont should be making clear and steady progress, but it really isn’t: the legislature hasn’t risen to the occasion, and so even here it is necessary to keep reminding them. It’s always necessary to keep the pressure on!”

The protesters marched out of the Town Green, their signs aloft, singing, “Lead With Love,” and paraded off down Route 7 for the start of the climate walk.

Benjy Renton/The Middlebury Campus
Marchers hold a sign with the words “Wake Up!” on their walk to Montpelier.