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Monday, June 17, 2013

Crossroads Rally in Albany (June 17th)

This was the promotion sign for the rally, dubbed New York Crossroads, that I attended in Albany today, right on the lawn and stairs of the capitol building.  To me, the message of the sign is simple. We have a choice in front of us to make, and it needs to be made now. We have reached the fork in the road. Do we pick dirty energy, fossil fuels, and environmental destruction (which in turn destroys us), or do we choose clean, green energy that will sustain us and our planet for an indefinite amount of time? To me, the choice seems obvious. But if it's as obvious as I think it is, I guess I wouldn't have been rallying in Albany earlier today.

Albany's Capitol Building

In April, I traveled to Albany as a student, sent by the League of Women Voters, to learn about New York politics and lobbying, and I had the opportunity to shadow a senator and an assemblyman and be on the floor with them while they voted. Today, I returned to partake in grassroots lobbying, take a stand for something I'm passionate about, and protest. Marching around the streets and shouting up at Governor Cuomo's office window is a much different experience than politely touring the gorgeous capitol building. I wonder what Senator O'Brien and Assemblyman Oaks would have had to say if they saw me there today. 

My sign: "I am ready to break my fossil fuel addiction." With a wind turbine on top :)

My fellow protester and close friend, Bruno.

After my friend and I had parked, we were making our way up to the capitol lawn when we heard noises. We were still a few blocks away. As we got closer, it sounded like music, and when we arrived, we realized it was the rally. The sound system was blasting away, streaming the songs and chants and speeches that would go on there for at least a mile. Everyone inside the capitol building could hear us, loud and clear. 

I was immediately thrilled to be there. There were so many people of all different ages and races, and I was delighted to see the variety. I had thought only younger people would be there; I never imagined that so many of my elders would be just as willing to drive across the state for an environmental rally as I was. Overall, there were about 2,000 people. 

 Looking down onto the capitol lawn, blanketed in people.

 The front steps of the capitol building!

The whole thing was simply breathtaking. I'm not sure what was more beautiful, the capitol building, or the massive coalition of incredibly dedicated and caring people. Maybe it was a combination of the two: the capitol building as a symbol of democracy and justice, and then all the people gathering around it to demand just that. One of our chants while marching was "This is what democracy looks like!"

There were many great speakers at the rally, and I recorded as many of their speeches as I could with my camera. Of all of them, I was most excited to hear from Arun (pronounced ah-roon, as I found out, not like Aaron) Gandhi, grandson of one of my most revered role models: Mohandas Gandhi. When writing an IB research paper on Gandhi's influence on the Indian caste system, I read Arun Gandhi's book, Kastur Gandhi: the Forgotten Woman, to better understand the lives of Mohandas and his strong and noble wife, Kastur. While many historians interpret Kastur as Gandhi's greatest supporter, someone who melted her personality into his, Arun took a different and crucial approach. His thesis was that Kastur influenced Gandhi as much as he influenced the world, and was by no means a meek and perfectly obedient wife. As her grandson and a tireless researcher (he spent years traveling, researching, and compiling to write this book) I believe Arun makes an outstanding point about the historical pair. His book is one of the most inspiring I've ever read. My friend had to give me a push to do it, but I gathered the nerve to approach him and get his autograph after we marched around the capitol building.

Arun Gandhi gave a moving speech about how New York is the strongest state among the fifty states that make up the world's most powerful country. He told us how poor and uneducated women in India know how to make solar panels, and they use this skill to "electrify" communities that originally had no power. He said that these women traveled to Africa to teach the poor and uneducated African women how to make these solar panels, so that they too could bring electricity to their impoverished villages. "So I don't understand why the most powerful state in the United States and the most powerful country in the world... is unable to use solar energy to electrify this country." 

After the speakers finished, we began a march around the capitol building. There were photographers everywhere documenting our movement, and cars driving down the street honked their horns wildly at us to show us their support. Pedestrians stopped and watched in awe. I can't remember the last time I felt so proud. We chanted at the top of our lungs (I had to be a little more quiet because of my recent wisdom teeth removal) and there were so many of us that we almost encircled the property. 
 Marching the perimeter of the capitol building's property. 

 There's me! 

 Yes, yes it is! 

 We gathered back at the front steps for a few final speeches and some songs, and then our three hours were up and it was time to disperse. The weather had been beautiful up until the moment the rally ended. Clouds gathered so quickly that it seemed like a mirage, and suddenly it was pouring, the wind was howling, and the lightning was absolutely wild. Bruno and I took shelter under the capitol entrance, and when the rain calmed to a sprinkle we grabbed some lunch in a quiet cafe and then headed back to the car to go home. It was as if nature was agreeing with us: the sun shined radiantly during our rally, and then the storm came, a dark underscore to our demonstration, almost like a warning to the politicians. I sincerely hope and believe that what we did today will have a deep influence on Governor Cuomo's upcoming decision about fracking in New York.

Because of today, I feel for the first time that I have completely jumped into the environmental movement. I took a stand today for something I believed in, and the hours I drove and the money I spent to get there meant nothing. I would have driven many more hours and spend much more money to be there. The New York Crossroads rally is an experience that I will never forget, and years from now I feel like I'll turn back and say "that's where it all truly started, for me." Today, I came to a fork in the road, I chose my own path, and there's no looking back. 

I used to think that my generation got the short stick because we were growing up in uneventful, boring times. We had nothing to stand for, not like civil rights or protesting the Vietnam War. But lately, I've been realizing that I was wrong. My generation may actually have to fight the biggest fight the world has ever seen. We have to fight corporate greed, politics, and monetary influence to save the planet as we know it. We have to fight for the Earth, and subsequently, the future of all mankind. 

I'm ready. Are you?
"Don't Frack NY!"

All pictures, unless otherwise stated, were taken by Bruno and myself using my camera.