College Mennonite Church, Goshen College, Goshen, Ind., and the local Voluntary Gas Tax group teamed up Monday, September 15 to welcome walkers participating in the Great March for Climate Action.

The 30 to 40 march participants received Mennonite hospitality in the form of a crowded potluck, a dry place to sleep and four-part harmony singing. The group reported that it was the largest welcome they had received.

“NOW,” is a key word for the marchers, who disrupted college educations, careers and retirements to draw attention to climate change. Some of the group had been walking 15 to 20 miles a day since they left Los Angeles March 1, bearing the message that climate change is not just weather and is not about politics. The marchers are headed for Washington, D.C. after a side trip to the People’s Climate March in New York City, September 21.

In Goshen, the visit fueled plans for a local climate change action on September 21 and helped students interested in attending the New York City event find financial backing from other attenders. Local planning groups assembled following presentations by members of the march.

Conversations with Everybody

“We need to be opening conversations about climate change with everybody: our family, clerks at stores, everyone,” asserted Miriam Kashia, an Iowa resident who is the group’s “mayor.” The 71-year-old therapist is one of five people committed to walking all seven million steps of the march from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C.

Kat Haber, a mother and grandmother from Alaska, described one particularly moving day. While in the Chicago area, group walked through a community that housed a storage facility for a petroleum coke, a powdery byproduct produced at oil refineries. They learned that nearby Little League games were sometimes cancelled due to the blowing dust. Perhaps because of this personal experience with an environmental problem, people came out of houses and stores to see the march in a way they hadn’t anywhere else.

Other walkers described some of the challenges. Marchers have walked through hail, droughts, rain, chiggers, ticks and mosquitoes. Some of them have been on the road over 200 days. They spent many nights in tents. Several of the group were comparing notes and realized that between the four of them, they had lost 100 pounds.

Faith Meckley, a 19-year-old college student from New York who is taking a semester off to work on climate change has been with the March since New Mexico. Meckley reported that most of the thousands of contacts the marchers have had ranged from neutral to supportive. Often people welcomed them unconditionally. Meckley gave the example of a post office clerk she engaged in conversation. Regardless of his views on climate change, the clerk paid her package for her.

Faith communities have frequently served as hosts for the marchers. In Nebraska, nearly half of their nights were spent in churches. Earlier, they spent a night in a Buddhist temple.

The group left Goshen Tuesday morning for Shipshewana, Ind., via the Pumpkinvine Trail. They will take a bus to New York City for the People’s Climate March, then return to Ohio and resume their walk.

– by Jennifer Schrock