By Olivia Miltner, Managing Editor
Since March 2014, Ben Bushwick, an Ohio University student, has walked over 2,000 miles. His shoes are ravaged and he has no qualms about eating with his hands. He has passed through Arizona, Nebraska, Iowa and beyond, but he still has a few miles to go before reaching his final destination: Washington, D.C.
Bushwick is a member of the Great American March for Climate Action, one of the largest coast-to-coast marches in American history and a movement meant to educate and inspire people to address climate change.
“I’m marching because quite frankly I don’t see any other choice,” Bushwick said. “Atmospheric disruption is a real threat that people do not take seriously and will make mitigation and adaptation efforts a lot more difficult.”
Along the march, participants tailor their message to fit with regional environmental issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska or water scarcity in the Southwest.
To do this, they try to engage with local community members who oftentimes have wide ranges of education and opinions on climate change.
“Sometimes we get people who are completely closed off to what we are doing, but a lot of times Midwest hospitality still powers through that,” Bushwick said. “We’ve had potlucks, climate conversations, people have made us dinners, we have movie screenings (and) panel discussions.”
Politicians and business owners also come to speak at rallies and protests, but some members dislike this tactic because they do not think it is effective at connecting with community members.
They believe politicians and business owners are not always the most qualified to speak about issues, and protesting entails “a bunch of people marching through the streets yelling at inanimate objects and pedestrians and road signs,” which does not engage people in conversation.
However, Bushwick noted they prefer to seek out front-line people who have been affected by environmental issues, and he believes they have an advantage over other environmental movements because many people participating in the march are ordinary citizens, rather than political figures.
“We’re just people who are walking; we’re not pretending to be better than anyone. I think that’s been a problem within this movement in the past — people feeling that members of our movement are coming from a place of superiority or arrogance, and it turns people off from the message,” Bushwick said. “We’re not trying to do that. We just want to talk with people and engage with them.”
The Great March for Climate Action passed through Ohio from Sept. 22 to Oct 10. Marchers visited Toledo, Cleveland, Kent and Youngstown along the way while advocating against water disruption linked to hydraulic fracturing and harmful algae blooms.
In addition to raising awareness about water quality threats, Bushwick hopes the march will promote certain political moves he believes will be environmentally-friendly.
“One of the goals of going through Ohio is a short-term solution to some of these things like injection wells seems to be getting John Kasich out of office,” Bushwick said. “A longer term solution which we’re looking at for things like this are a community bill of rights.”
Currently, the march is heading out of Pennsylvania and is set to reach Washington D.C. on Nov. 1, where Bushwick said participants will engage in a public display of protest.
“We want to do something really big and meaningful and aligned with the reasons why we’re marching and what we’re marching for,” Bushwick said. “It’ll probably look like a seven-day act of civil disobedience — a lot of opportunities for people to get in trouble and get arrested. I’m hoping it will involve the financial district.”
When asked about what he hopes will come out of the march, Bushwick said he wanted to reshape Americans’ views on success — though in not so many words.
“A new American dream,” Bushwick said. “Go big or go home, sister.”
Olivia is from Columbus, Ohio, and is in her second year at Ohio University. She is majoring in journalism and global studies, with plans on completing the environmental studies certificate. Olivia loves exploring the connections between environmental, social and economic issues in society.
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