During the week leading up to the “Summer Heat” demonstrations — protesting the Keystone XL pipeline and urging for action on climate change — about 25 people started a hike from Camp David to Washington, D.C. Midway through the 100-mile hike, they were joined by another 50 people at Harper’s Ferry, W.Va. They called their journey the “Walk for Our Grandchildren.”
The name gives away the motivation — the walker’s sense of duty to future generations to leave a healthy planet. When they reached D.C., many were arrested in an act of civil disobedience at the offices of Environmental Resources Management, a consulting firm given the task of writing the environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline — a firm which also works for TransCanada, the energy company seeking to build the pipeline. Many others spent that Friday night at a church, and joined the Summer Heat demonstrations at the White House the next day.
Many of the walkers spoke of the value of the walk for the participants, in addition to the political statement they were making. Lore Rosenthal said that this really wasn’t a march — nobody came out to cheer them on as they walked along the canal — but a pilgrimage. Many found the experience inspiring, she said, and guessed it would be the start of their work as climate activists.
Mimi McKindley-Ward also called it a pilgrimage. It is “both action and prayer … a time set aside from an everyday rhythm, a way to respond to feelings of powerlessness and seek clarity,” she said.
While some of the walkers were indeed grandparents, many were not. Some were simply there for future generations — perhaps their own grandkids they would have one day.
“I’m walking because I can, and because I believe in a healthy, sustainable future for all of us,” Emily, a woman in her twenties, said.
Keith, a chemistry professor, named his seven young grandchildren as “the most important part” of the walk. Keith was there because of the reality of climate change and the rapid increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide since his childhood.
“[My grandkids] deserve better,” he said.
For many walkers, climate concerns bound tightly with belief.
“Our faith was evident just in our walking,” walker Laura Narayani Gubisch said.
Another participant, Katharine Layton, agreed.
“I see this as spiritual warfare. We have the last chance to stand faithfully on the side of all that is good in the face of greed, oppression and apathy,” Layton, who attends a Methodist church in Virginia, said.
As 20 of the walkers paused in the shade before crossing a bridge and entering the noise and traffic of Georgetown, they waited for news of the contingency engaging in civil disobedience at ERM’s offices. Fifty-five people had been arrested, they learned.
A combination of exhaustion and enthusiasm was visible in each of the walkers. They had all walked many miles to get to that point, and it was clear that they valued the conversations and solidarity they had found on the trail, no matter how their actions would impact climate policy.
Today, they are continuing their conversations from their hometowns, in more comfort than their week of no-frills hiking. And the grandparents who made the long trek put an implicit challenge to the rest of us — asking what we will do for the movement.
“What did Jesus do when he found God’s temple being defiled? He took action. Our planet, God’s temple, is being defiled and plundered. What are we going to do about it?” Layton asked.
A group willing to walk multiple marathons for a cause is not likely to lose energy. They were, and still are, out there for their grandchildren, for their future generations, and for their faith — whether faith in God, or faith simply that good will prevail.
Liz Schmitt is Creation Care Campaign Associate at Sojourners.