Student environmental organizers find ways to keep active from home

When sports seasons were canceled and classes went remote, activism did, too.

By NICOLE POLLACK

SARAH FAGAN

For Edyth Moldow ’23, this is a hopeful moment. Back home in Denver, Colorado, she is staying involved with the Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG) and Sunrise Middlebury, both close-knit environmental organizations with a large on-campus presence.

“Despite all of the negative consequences [of Covid-19] and all of the bad things that are going on in the world right now, it’s actually pushing people to take more action than we were before,” Moldow said. “So in a way, it’s kind of amped up the climate activism to a really high degree.”

SNEG and Sunrise have continued their work via Zoom, Instagram and other digital platforms, but it’s been hard to stay in close communications from a distance, Moldow said. While not everyone is able to devote the same energy to organizing that they could on campus, those who can still participate have become even more dedicated, with many members channeling feelings of helplessness and isolation into environmental action.

“Right now, there is more of a need than there ever has been, to be taking action in whatever capacity we’re able to,” Moldow said.

Malia Armstrong ’22.5, also a member of SNEG and Sunrise, is using this time in Southern California to check in with herself and her community. The two organizations are prioritizing community-building, she said, by touching base at every meeting and figuring out new ways to support each other — an attitude she described as, ‘Don’t worry, we have your back.’

Even during a normal semester, activism can be draining, and going remote has posed additional challenges to Middlebury’s environmental leaders.

“At school, we feel like we’re getting so much accomplished,” Armstrong said. “It’s easy to see what we’re doing. Like, we’ll have an event and we can see all the people who came, or, we plan an action and we get to see the action come to fruition. But here, like it’s harder to visualize success. What we’ve been doing, it’s not tangible anymore.”

Armstrong helps new Sunrise members find their place in activism — something she also struggled with when she arrived at Middlebury.

“As a person of color, I don’t have the luxury of being able to get arrested without fear of being targeted,” she said. She prefers working behind the scenes on community building and event and action planning, a side of activism that was new to her, but which she has come to embrace.

“Being a part of such close communities with SNEG and Sunrise, and hearing other people’s stories and their journey through activism, has helped me figure out what I really enjoy and what I care about,” Armstrong said.

Jacob Freedman ’21, a co-founder of place-based conservation effort The Wild Hometown Movement and Middlebury offshoot WildMidd, was supposed to spend the semester at the Middlebury School in Argentina. The program was canceled on March 13.

“As I was flying home, I was super flip-flopping on my emotions,” Freedman said. “I was like, ‘No, this is horrible, this is the worst thing ever,’ and then 10 minutes later, I’d be like, ‘I need to do everything that I can to help my community find solace and security and safety in this time.’”

Freedman has been working with his local land trust in Worcester, Massachusetts since high school, and he jumped back into land protection work as soon as he got home. He’s been making maps using GIS, finishing an urban trail network he has wanted to get up and running for years, and searching for rattlesnakes in a nearby forest. The rattlesnake hunt is a long-shot conservation effort: developers are interested in cutting down the forest, but if Freedman can find a rattlesnake, the land will be protected.

He and a filmmaker friend are also putting together a series of videos about Worcester’s forests and nature areas. The project aims to help build community around nature.

“I think with people looking for things to do right now, just sort of showing that the natural world is alive and nature is thriving around us, that’s a really hopeful message,” he said.

Freedman and WildMidd co-founder Oscar Psychas ’21 passed the torch to new club leadership, and are focusing on expanding the organization to other New England colleges.

“The whole goal of WildMidd is connecting with nature where we live, loving the communities that we live in and recognizing that the wild world exists all around us,” Freedman said.

“I’m super excited for this to be a moment for folks who feel really comfortable on online platforms to take the lead,” said Hannah Laga Abram ’23, who does not consider herself a particularly internet-savvy activist. She thrives on in-person organizing and is using this time to center down, take long walks in rural New Mexico and refocus on the nature she is fighting to protect.

“As much organizing as is being done online and virtually, it just isn’t the same as being able to be in the same space with people and really talk to folks, and hear their stories, and really engage them,” she said.

Laga Abram continues to attend SNEG meetings, and has been co-writing op-eds highlighting the need for socially transformative solutions to Covid-19.

“I think that’s a really important way to get our opinions out right now,” she said, “particularly regarding the way that COVID-19 is completely enmeshed in the climate crisis, and all of the ways that the broken systems that this is revealing are exactly, also, what have caused and continue to cause the climate crisis. And that our solutions to this used to be really focused on that.”

Haley Goodman ’21 had to leave Middlebury’s program in Madrid in March. She returned home to New York and soon started volunteering remotely with the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN) in Middlebury, helping to start a virtual farmers’ market that opened on April 29. Customers at the market order directly from farmers and collect their orders at one of two pick-up locations, in Bristol on Wednesday afternoons and Middlebury on Thursday mornings.

Goodman worked at ACORN in the summer and fall, and they reached out to her after she left Spain about assisting with the farmers’ market. Since then, she has helped out wherever is needed, including onboarding farmers, finding locations for dropoff sites, contacting volunteers, editing the website and building the app.

“It’s been so heartening, and made me just feel filled with joy and hope, trying to reach out to get volunteers, and see who’s interested in helping us out in any way, because the response that I’ve gotten has just been people being overjoyed to share all the resources that they can,” Goodman said.

An environmental geography major, Goodman is reformatting the market’s interactive map, which connects people in Addison County to more than 200 farmers and food producers, to be compatible with its forthcoming mobile app.

Correction May 14, 2020: An earlier version of this story stated that Goodman created the interactive map. She did not make the map, but is adapting it to the mobile app.