Guest Posts, Inspiration, Young Voices

This Is What Everyone Feels Like: A Thirteen Year Old Speaks Out.

October 22, 2014

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Jen Pastiloff here. I am the founder of The Manifest-Station and the author of the forthcoming book Beauty Hunting. I wanted to say a quick thank you to all of our readers and authors. I am over the moon that the site is a platform for writers of all ages. To have a place where young people and teens feel safe to sound their voice, all, that’s beauty hunting to me. 

This Is What Everyone Feels Like: An Eighth Grade Vegan Reflects on the People’s Climate March

By Eva Schenck, Eighth Grader.

We waited, and I fidgeted, feeling pressed on all sides, as though this were the subway at rush hour. Every few minutes a cheer would startle the air, but it never lasted long, and I found myself counting time, wondering when the march would begin.

Half an hour, an hour, two hours…

Suddenly it felt as if a massive wave made of sound was rushing towards us, drenching us from all sides. No words, just an inarticulate roar. Ahhhhhhhhhh! Within moments my voice was hoarse from screaming, and I was sure the screaming would go on forever.

Then, just as suddenly as the tsunami had come upon us, it was gone.

The air was still and empty, and in the silence hands were being raised. I reached my own arms toward the sky. Hundreds of thousands of people, all silent and still, our hands in the air, our signs and banners raised.

That moment was sacred. It was history.

The march had begun.

* * *

            The people, united, will never be defeated.

            The people, united, will never be defeated.

            The people, united, will never be defeated.

We chanted in unison, as if immune to the possibility of defeat. We walked slowly, stopping often. Two hours went by and we had made it all of ten blocks, but the air was vibrant, penetrated by chants and music and shouts—announcing that climate change was an issue that had finally come of age.

As we rounded Columbus Circle, I found a spot holding on to one of many parachutes, bright orange circles painted with suns and and slogans.

This was child’s play. We pulled the parachute sharply up and down, over and over, letting the fabric billow out and fill with air. A plush globe bounced and spun on top, dancing across bold, black letters: WE HAVE THE SOLUTIONS!

Sometimes we raised the parachute and the globe would go spinning off into the street, and one of the other marchers would have to catch it and send it spinning back, while we shouted, Save the world!

All around us were signs.

High, bright, yellow signs, waving in the wind: Nuclear Power? No thanks!

Shower curtain signs worn by PETA protesters: 1 lb. meat = 180 showers.

Go Frack Yourself. (Mom pointed out that one, and we laughed.)

There Is No Planet B.

Don’t Hurt Your Mother.

Use Renewable Energy.

Tax CO2.

This. Is. Real.

Thousands of people held small, nearly identical signs that read I’m marching for, with white boxes filled in by hand. I imagined filming a long line of these people, each one here for their own reasons.

I’m Marching For…

            …my grandchildren.

            ….my future children.

            …bees.

            …the trees and the flowers that can’t march today.

            …a sustainable future.

            …happiness.

Some signs just had single names. I wondered if some of these were friends or relatives who had died. We all had our own reasons for being here, but we all wanted to make history. Together we wanted to make change.

* * *

The billboards of Times Square glared down on us, but they were inconsequential compared to what was happening on the street. My feet hurt from standing and walking, walking and standing, and my arms ached terribly from waving the parachute – this was inconsequential too.

Each new chant and cheer brought strength. With each cry of one, two, three!, we raised the parachute as high as we could, and little kids ran underneath.

Sometimes our team leader led games:

Run under if…you’re vegan! I loosened my grip on the billowing parachute and ran under, coming back to my handhold before the parachute could deflate.

Run under if… you ride a bike to work or school! I held on, and lifted my arms to help the parachute rise.

Run under if… you ride a train or bus to work or school! I dashed under again.

 

* * *

The globe, brightly colored like a kindergarten toy, spun and spun. I imagined what the delegates from every country I saw as it spun towards me might be saying at the U.N. climate meetings that week.

Hey U.N.! We don’t want the world to end!

Hey, Obama! You talk the talk, now walk the walk!

There were trumpets behind us and people singing: This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine…

All around I felt hope. Hope that the world could change. Dedication to making sure it did.

Tell me what democracy looks like?

THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

Show me how democracy dances?

THIS IS HOW DEMOCRACY DANCES!

The most pressing crisis humanity has ever known, and we were dancing for joy on Times Square.

* * *

The end was in sight. We were chanting at the top of our lungs, walking slowly but victoriously, as if we were striding out of the march and into the future—a future we would be sure not to soil with the mistakes of the past.

My throat was sore, my voice cracked, but nothing could stop me from shouting these words, over and over, as a final message we could not allow to be lost, a promise that we wouldn’t stop:

We’ll. Be. Back. We’ll. Be. Back. We’ll! Be! Back!

There was a man holding a sign as we turned the corner: End of the March (Make some noise!) and we complied, generating another roar like the one that had set us in motion: AHHHHHHHHHH!

People dispersed quickly after that.

I moved to the side of the road to help fold the parachute. It seemed tiny now, inconsequential.

 

* * *

I like to think I’ll always remember the details of that day and the people we met. We came early to leaflet with an organization called Mercy for Animals, but their meeting place had changed. So Mom started pushing through the crowds, asking if anyone knew where to find Mercy for Animals.

One guy called back that she could find it in her heart.

I want to remember him. I want to remember the girl holding the parachute next to me. I never learned her name, but we laughed and danced together for hours.

Then there was the guy who came on a bus all the way from Texas and planned to get right back on the bus as soon as the march was over. He gave me two temporary tattoos, one for each cheek: Citizens Climate Lobby and Tax CO2. (I refused to wash them off and wore them to school the next day, to the reluctance of my mother and the chagrin of the dean.)

There were socialists, scientists, and people from Flood Wall Street. There were indigenous leaders and politicians. There was a woman in Birkenstocks, who told us she’d marched in New York City against the war in Vietnam.

To me, it seemed as if the whole world had gathered in New York City, and this was the slogan we marched under: To change everything, we need everyone.

 

* * *

Being a 13 year old who cares about climate change can be lonely.

It’s even worse if you’re vegan.

I was raised vegetarian, but in fifth grade I decided to do some research online. I learned that the livestock industry is a leading factor in climate change, which I would never have guessed in a million years. I learned that producing milk, dairy, and eggs is hardly any better for the environment than producing meat is, and it’s harder on the animals in many ways. I learned that eating local is nice but doesn’t do much to cut carbon emissions. I also realized that the only way to feed the world is to share a plant-based diet.

I went to my mom and told her what I’d found out, and we decided to go vegan together.

I’ve had to put up with a lot since then. Kids tell me I’ll get cancer and die, that my brain won’t develop normally. Adults aren’t always understanding either. One parent called my mom to complain that being vegan made me a bad influence on her daughter, as if I took drugs.

The worst part is that most of America’s climate leaders see me as a nuisance too.

A couple years ago a very respected vegan writer tried to have a dialog with the leadership of 350.org about the meat-climate connection. Most of them refused to even talk to him. Being vegan is pretty much like being a coal company as far as they’re concerned.

My mom and I disagree on why that is. I think it’s because they don’t want to give up eating meat and cheese themselves.

My mom says it’s because they’re afraid of alienating other people.

I think both reasons are bunk.

Don’t get me wrong–I support sun and wind energy. I’m against fracking, and I’m for a carbon tax. But I’m also 13. There aren’t too many ways I can actually help change things on climate. Eating a vegan diet is one thing I can do, so it feels pretty awful that the climate movement is intent on shutting people like me out.

At least at the march itself no one tried to make us feel bad. A couple of men rolled their eyes when we tried to hand them flyers, but a lot of other people were eager to talk about the connection between food and climate change, and we were eager to discuss “their issues” too: fracking, nuclear energy, carbon pricing, bicycles. In the end, they’re all issues for all of us.

To change everything, we need everyone.

On September 21, 2014, I got a taste of what being part of everyone might feel like—and it was awesome.

Eva Schenck is an eighth grader who has been writing stories since she was six. In addition to reading and hanging out with friends, she is fiercely devoted to social and environmental justice, net neutrality, and animal rights–and also to playing trombone. This essay began as a class assignment at the fabulous public middle school she attends in New York City.

All of Jen Pastiloff’s events and workshops listed here, including Mexico writing retreat, Tuscany retreat, New Years retreat in Calif. Next up: Dallas and Miami.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!  Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

Join Jen at a writing retreat in Mexico this May!
Jennifer Pastiloff is part of the faculty in 2015 at Other Voices Querétaro in Mexico with Gina Frangello, Emily Rapp, Stacy Berlein, and Rob Roberge. Please email Gina Frangello to be accepted at ovbooks@gmail.com. Click poster for info or to book. Space is very limited.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Barbara Potter October 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Love reading this post from a caring young person concerned about the fate of our world. Thanks for being who you are.

  • Reply Denise Dare October 22, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Eva,

    You are an inspiration.

    Thank you for your vision + your courage to march to the beat of a different drum.

    I totally hear you about the climate issues related to a non~vegan lifestyle.

    When I was at Al Gore’s Climate Reality training in 2012, there were vegan activists outside the event, sharing these same truths.

    Thankfully, Al Gore + his team listened…and included information about the environmental problems caused by raising + eating animals. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

    Stay true to your vision + let your voice be heard, Eva.

    Your love + enthusiasm + commitment are encouraging…and hope is what we need.

    Thank you, again.

    Here’s to radical change + inspired conscious living + wellness for all.

    Love + Peace,

    Denise

  • Reply Joe Downie October 22, 2014 at 9:50 pm

    Beautiful

  • Reply Liz Taylor October 28, 2014 at 2:00 am

    Eva,
    you write beautifully as well as with conviction, and your words brought me to tears. Know that however lonely it feels being vegan there are so many more of us right with you. We may not be able to see each other but we can all support each other in our hearts and just know they we are growing stronger as a global community. What each of us can do is live in harmony with the earth as best we can and be the example the world needs. Shine your light.

  • Reply Jen Rosenstein October 28, 2014 at 3:39 am

    Eva- You are wise beyond your years! I’m a fellow vegan and I completely understand. I feel it every day. I teach eighth graders and a few would love to go vegan, and their parents won’t let them! Some of those parents have even had “conversations” with me because they think I’m influencing their children…like…in a bad way. Imagine that! Veganism is a beautiful thing. If you get a chance, go visit a farm animal sanctuary in the spring, like Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary. You’ll find like minded folks there, and making a connection with the animals can be quite profound. Know that you’re not alone!

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