written by Lily Gutterman, Team Vermont, New Media Coordinator
We left Vergennes on Sunday June 22, saying goodbye to the folks at the Congregational Church who had so graciously hosted us last-minute. Pastor Gary rang the church bell for us as we pedalled northward towards Burlington. We did not yet know where we would be staying in Burlington, but were confident that something would come through.
Once we got to Burlington, sweating in our orange Climate Summer tees, it became clear that a place to stay for the week would not magically appear. Luckily, we had a 350 Vermont contact who would take us for the night, but we’d have to wait for him to get back from protests in Montreal. We parked our gear in City Hall Park and waited. My first taste of Burlington wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped. It made me realize how much I generally take for granted– somebody welcoming you when you arrive, somewhere to stow your things, a place to sit. We hung around in the park for around six hours, listening to an outdoor concert of potentially Caribbean (Haitian?) worship music that seemed to last forever. We ate the last of our quinoa and bread. Already, I knew Burlington was going to be different.
In retrospect, its clear why it was harder to find a place to stay. Burlington isn’t a small town, and you can’t trust everybody. The church we ultimately resided in was an enormous space, and we were given the third floor. One day, we went to go meet Liz Miller from Governor Schumlin’s office, and had a fascinating conversation about transitioning to alternative energy. When we returned to the Church, we found that different members of our team all had something missing– laptop, iPad, charger, and cash. We felt violated, confused, and reckless in the way we had left our things out. We had grown so comfortable with small towns, the “big city” caught us by surprise.
Yet walking down the streets of Burlington, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hadn’t realized how much I missed the vibrancy of a city– the restaurants, the music, the street performers, the neighborhoods, the tourists, and the fixtures. Everything seemed to have a place in Burlington, and it took us awhile, but we began to fit comfortably in it. Spending time with other college-aged people, hanging out with UVM students and going out to hear music at night seems standard, but for us it was such a novelty. On the road for over a month, I hadn’t even stopped to think how much I missed my peers. In Burlington, I was re-situated in my college world. Finding the place for our activism within a student setting was invigorating and new for me. Spending time with environmentalists, anarchists, artists and occupiers made me feel more personally connected to the movement for system change in this country.
On Sunday, we participated in actions to stop tar sands oil from passing through Vermont or any state in the U.S. For those of you who don’t know, tar sands are oil deposits that need to be extracted with large amounts of natural gas. Tar sands oil is particularly abrasive and viscous, it is essentially molten sandpaper and it is pumped at high pressures. Its acidity and corrosiveness makes it highly likely to spill, impossible to clean, and extremely harmful to ecosystems, including human health. Right now, there are plans underway to potentially reverse a 62 year old pipeline in New England to bring tar sands from Alberta through Montreal to Portland, ME for export. Most people don’t yet know about this plan, as the corporation behind it has been planning very secretively in segments. For more information click here.
Protesting this pipeline on Sunday was powerful because I realized that our work was not in isolation. We were no longer incubated in our five-person mold and way of doing things. We were working within a larger community of activists and concerned citizens, fighting for what we believe in. My group was specifically involved with 350 Vermont’s anti-Tar sands actions and human oil spill. But it didn’t end there. We rallied in solidarity with Canadian students trying to keep their tuitions low, Innu people and New Hampshire natives fighting Hydo-Quebec and the Plan Nord, student blocs, Migrant Justice, Red Clover Climate Justice, and The Vermont Workers Center in their “Put People First” campaign. It was a day of solidarity, inclusiveness and full participation.
In every sense, it was a week of things bigger than us. As my teammate Emma said this morning, Burlington alone felt like three weeks. It was an education.