Ways of Seeing: Marching for a better world can create family memories

Most Sunday mornings find me attending church at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society, but on Sept. 21 I was in New York City for the People’s Climate March. My family and I joined thousands of other Vermonters who made this trip to the Big Apple to be a part of this historic event. The night before the demonstration, we were having Vietnamese food in Brooklyn with my two aunts and my youngest cousin, Lola. Lola is the same age as my daughter, Wren, and neither of them was particularly excited about joining the march.
I am carrying on a time-honored tradition of dragging my child to numerous protests and demonstrations, so that she will grow up to understand that our freedom of speech is like a muscle that must be stretched and strengthened so it doesn’t atrophy. My mother did it to me, and I am doing it to her. Someday, hopefully, she will know the joy of convincing her own recalcitrant child that there could be no more important way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
My beloved aunt Terri, mother of the aforementioned Lola, was not planning on forcing her daughter to attend the march. Lola has recently turned 13, and her roller derby name is Sherlock Homicide. I wouldn’t mess with her either. This gave Wren some ammunition for her campaign. “I have a lot of homework I need to do. How come Lola doesn’t have to go, but I do?”
I replied, “Wren, I don’t want you to be 18 years old, and learning about this historic day, and wishing you had been there. It’s just too important. We are going to help turn the tide, take the world away from fossil fuels and toward a just and sustainable economy that values all of life. Plus we came all the way from Vermont. You can do your homework later.”
At this point in our dinner conversation a small miracle occurred. “OK,” Lola said, “I’ll come to the march.” We adults smiled into our Pho (this is a delicious Vietnamese soup that unfortunately is not available in Middlebury).
The next day we applied sunscreen, filled our water bottles, and took the subway into Manhattan. My aunt Wendy, who had come from Massachusetts for the demonstration, and who was probably the first person to RSVP to this climate rescue party, was having fun deciding which people on our train were also on their way to the march. As our train neared Columbus Circle, she decided that pretty much the entire subway car was heading to the demonstration.
Wendy and Terri are my mom’s two sisters. When I was in high school, I got to participate in another march with my aunt Wendy, also in New York City. That one was a march for nuclear disarmament, in 1982. Wendy’s daughter, my cousin Clara, was only one year old, so she rode in a stroller. The only thing I remember about this march is that we sang “All we are saying … is give peace a chance” as we walked through the city streets. When I Googled this demonstration just now I found out that Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen both sang at the rally in Central Park, where the march ended. This means I have been to a Bruce Springsteen concert and I don’t even remember it. How is that even possible?
Win and I pushed our own stroller in Vermont’s first climate rescue walk, from Ripton to Burlington. Wren was three years old, and thus too young to voice any objections. Organized by Bill McKibben, John Elder, and a handful of Middlebury College students, this walk was the seedling that grew to become the global climate movement. A year later, my aunt Wendy, Wren (still in the stroller), and I took part in a 10-day walk across the state of Massachusetts. Wren and I missed the kickoff event, due to a serious snowstorm, but met up with Wendy along the route. This walk was organized by a coalition of churches and faith leaders from many different religions. We slept on the floor at a different church each night. I think there were around 30 people walking, college students, ministers, grandparents, and one yoga teacher. But when we got into Boston, on the last day of the walk, we were joined by hundreds of others, drumming and chanting as we headed up Commonwealth Avenue.
I am so glad that I’ve been brought up to speak out against injustice in the world. I’m proud that I come from a family of rabble rousers. My parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are precious to me, and one of the things I love most about them is their love for the whole human family. When I walk arm in arm with my family, I think about all the other families in the world, and their right to have a future free from the perils of climate disaster. May we all walk and work together, for a future to be possible.
Joanna Colwell is the director of Otter Creek Yoga in Middlebury’s Marble Works District. She lives in East Middlebury with her husband, daughter, father-in-law, and two cats. Feedback for this and other columns warmly welcomed: [email protected].

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