Nearly 60 hours on a bus, three days without a shower, sleeping upright in one- and two-hour increments and walking for miles in unseasonably warm and humid weather—that’s not how most of us would choose to spend a vacation.
But, that’s exactly how three University of Oklahoma employees spent some recent time off.
Anita Mann, April Williams and Peyavali Hashipala joined about 50 people from Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri on a bus trip to the People’s Climate March, held April 29 in Washington, D.C. The trip was organized and sponsored by the national Sierra Club, along with the Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri Sierra Club chapters.
It was a physically challenging, whirlwind of a trip – the women left Wichita, Kansas, at 7 a.m. April 28, marched all day April 29, and returned to Norman around midnight April 30. But, the women agree it was all worth it to be part of such a life-changing event that drew more than 200,000 marchers.
Mann, who participated in her first march in January at the Oklahoma City Women’s March, has been an environmentalist since childhood. Continuing her social and political activism at the People’s Climate March was an easy and natural choice.
“I only want people to do what feels right for them. Most of us already have very full lives. If people really want to get involved and have a voice though, there are ways to fit in just a few things.”
“I’m concerned about the planet and all her inhabitants. To me, the environment is a human rights issue, and I have to be an active participant in maintaining the protections we have had for decades, as well as making further progress such as continued movement toward renewable energy,” Mann said. “It was important to me that Oklahoma was represented. I only know of five of us there that day.”
Hashipala, a senior energy management student, said she felt a little contradictive making the trip.
“My major is mainly focused on oil and gas, which was also among the few reasons the march happened—to move away from coal, etc. However, I was very excited, because I’ve always wanted to go into renewable energy, and this march definitely also gave me the platform to march for something I believe in,” she said. “Every year becomes the warmest year in history, and it’s crazy how some people still believe climate change doesn’t exist. When people come together in big groups to raise awareness, we manage to at least educate a few people, and, at this point, educating one person at a time is all it takes.”
Williams said it was promising to see students, workers, faith communities, indigenous nations, and environmental groups all come together to defend communities and the climate.
“The march was a beautiful, hopeful moment,” she said. “Now, together, we will chart another path for America.”
Mann, who is 58, said although it’s important for people to become active citizens, what’s right for her may not be what’s right for everyone. She’s recommends at whatever level of involvement people choose, they not wait as long as she did to have such an experience.
“The two marches have given me the motivation to keep showing up, to keep making an effort, even though it’s challenging and sometimes frustrating and exhausting, and to speak up when it might be easier and more comfortable to say nothing. While I knew I must become more active, I only want people to do what feels right for them,” she said. “Most of us already have very full lives. If people really want to get involved and have a voice though, there are ways to fit in just a few things.”