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Mass. students to join massive NYC climate change march

Varshini Prakash, UMass Amherst senior who has been involved in the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign.

High school and college students may not be known for rising early, but hundreds of them will pile onto buses bound for New York City before sunrise on Sunday to join a massive demonstration for climate action.

From campuses across the state, the students will depart at 5:30 a.m. for the bus trip followed by a five-hour march.

“I’m going to power nap and drink a lot of coffee,” said Marcus Wade, 17, a senior at Dorchester Academy and member of the Boston Student Advisory Council, a coalition of high school advocates.

More than 100,000 people are expected to take part in the People’s Climate March, including 2,500 to 5,000 from Massachusetts, said Emily Kirkland, communications coordinator for the Better Future Project, a grass-roots climate activism group.


The march coincides with a United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday. The secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, plans to join the marchers on Sunday.

The issue of climate change hits many young people personally, Wade said.

“When we become adults, we’re going to have to live in this world,” he said. “Our children are going to have to live in it.”

“We have a 15-year time frame to turn this around before we’re gambling with our futures,” said Varshini Prakash, 21, a University of Massachusetts Amherst senior who has been involved in the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign.

News of the demonstration has been spread through grass-roots, word-of-mouth efforts, headed by community leaders and students.

The Boston Student Advisory Council has been working on building awareness of the march since the beginning of the summer.

Students spoke with Boston city councilors, put together banners and T-shirts, and maintained a strong social media presence leading up to the march, said Boston Latin Academy junior Savina Tapia, 16.

Jenny Sazama, a director and co-founder of Youth on Board, said many of the students with whom she works became interested in climate activism this year.


After participating in a rally against the Keystone pipeline project, which would bring oil from the tar sands fields of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, “they were in,” Sazama said. “They said ‘this is our future; this is us.’ ”

Youth on Board partners with Boston Public Schools and student leadership groups. Another group involved in the march, the College Democrats of Massachusetts, is among the event’s more than 1,000 sponsors.

“While environmentalists and labor have fought in the past over fossil fuel infrastructure projects, in New York City they will be united in a call for green jobs and stringent cuts to greenhouse gas emissions,” the group said in a statement.

“This isn’t just about glaciers, it’s about providing our communities with a just, livable future,” said Hispanic Caucus Chair Andres Vargas.

Heading the march are people at the front lines of the climate change struggle, according to the People’s Climate. This includes indigenous peoples, environmental justice groups, and people from communities affected by climate changes.

“When we talk about low-income people and people of color, they have already been marginalized and disenfranchised,” Prakash said. “They receive the worst impacts of climate change.”

In poorer communities with limited institutional support, climate change has a hyperlocal effect, said David Jenkins, program director of Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project. What can seem like varied struggles for better public transportation, or for fewer emissions to improve air quality, are “all one fight” for better environmental policy, he said.


The group is using its trip as a way “to mobilize young people, people of color, and lower-income people,” he said.

Roxbury student turnout was beyond the organizers’ expectations, said Jenkins.

The Alternatives for Community and Environment organization, with which Jenkins works, will send seven buses to the march, carrying a total of more than 300 passengers mostly from youth groups.

The Better Future Project/350 Massachusetts is sending 30 buses, three times their earlier estimate, Kirkland said. That leaves a wait list of more than 500 people who probably won’t be able to make the trip because they ran out of buses, she said.

Student groups, religious congregations, community groups, and labor unions have organized additional transportation of at least 30 more buses.

The march will wend its way from Central Park West at 86th Street to 11th Avenue at 34th Street, beginning at 11:30 a.m. and ending at about 4:30 p.m., according to the People’s Climate.

As the generation poised to feel a strong impact from climate change, said Jenkins, the young have a stake in the matter.

“We’re talking specifically about our future,” Prakash said. “The people who are around now to make those changes will not be dealing with the ramifications.”

Jennifer Smith can be reached at