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My walk to Plattsburgh

A little over two weeks ago, I was lying wide awake in my sleeping bag in the middle of the Debar Mountain Wild Forest, flinching at every snapping twig and raindrop that fell on my tent in the night. It was a far cry from my warm bed back in Saranac Lake, but I tried to remember the reason that I and two other fellow members of Sunrise Adirondacks were out there: to drive home just how critical it is for NY-21 to vote climate-smart.

Climate justice is something that our organization fights for on a daily basis, and with the stakes of this upcoming election painfully clear, we decided to show the North Country just how important it is to vote for elected officials who address the climate crisis. So we strapped on our walking shoes and marched 50 miles down out of the mountains to Plattsburgh, where the nearest office of our congressional representative Elise Stefanik is located. Our goal was to make a public statement that both she and our neighbors would hear, even from her townhouse in metro D.C.

It rained the first two days, soaking me to the bone. On the third and fourth days, the bottoms of my feet blistered and bled. By the fourth day, my legs were so stiff, I hobbled into Plattsburgh like the tin man. I put all of the physical pain aside because I know that my life and life of future generations are literally at stake. If we continue to do business as usual, burning fossil fuels for economic gain and exploiting impoverished persons for capital, we will not last long into the next century. With similar thoughts in all our minds, our three-man procession passed through Vermontville to Sugar Bush and on to Cadyville, all while carrying small signs on our packs that condensed these sentiments down into a simple phrase, “for our future.”

Along the way, we encountered mostly positive reactions. A couple stopped their car on the shoulder to wish us well. A woman pulled up alongside us to ask if we wanted a ride just for a few miles. A man came out of his house to offer us something to drink. People took our pictures and honked their horns. The question we kept getting was, “Why are you doing this?” and we would simply respond, “We want change, and we need it now.” Even in the smallest of communities, where one may think a conservative majority exists, residents agreed with our action. It became clear that asking for climate action is not an inherently political thing; every human understands deep down that we cannot exist without a healthy planet. I actually can only remember three times in which we encountered negative responses to our presence. On these occasions, we were met with Trump supporters shouting campaign slogans at us, a hearty middle finger or a mocking laugh. Why? Simply because of a little yellow sign on my back that said “for our future.”

Science has come back time and again to assure us that manmade climate change is happening, yet it has become such a political topic that begging for change to avoid it is now seen as “socialist propaganda.” Let me assure you, I did not limp along the side of Route 3 to take away your guns, or your civil liberties. I put my physical health and safety on the line for good jobs and a livable future, not for the Democratic Party. I silenced the ache in my knees for my 4-year-old niece, not for the rise of a communist state. I carried that 35-pound pack 50 miles for the family I want to have but am afraid to start in such an uncertain future. I did it for my neighbors, for perfect strangers, for Rep. Stefanik and for myself. I did all of this because change is so urgently needed that I am willing to suffer for it.

While my feet are still healing, I am asking one thing of NY-21 this election, and that is to vote climate-smart. Vote for candidates who will act on climate change now. Vote for candidates who understand how climate change will further abuse and marginalize the poorest of humankind. Vote for candidates who understand and trust scientific facts. Vote for my future and for the future of your descendants. Cross your party lines if need be. There is no pride in living on a dead planet.

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