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April 23, 2024

Forward on Climate rally brings JHU to D.C.

By Rian Dawson | February 21, 2013

Chants like, “Michelle Obama, tell your man: stop this dirty climate plan!” and “Hey Obama, we don’t want no climate drama” filled the National Mall Sunday at the Forward on Climate Rally. The more than 40,000 attendees, including several Hopkins students, then marched to the White House.

The main goal of the rally was to urge Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a system of pipes to transport synthetic crude oil from Northeastern Alberta, Canada to various locations in the United States.

Sophomore Jon Smeton, president of Refuel our Future, an environmentalist club whose goal is to shift how fossil fuels are viewed through raising awareness of their global and public health effects, organized a ride-share program to get students to D.C.

“We had a lot of extra room in cars, we wanted to get things organized, and we wanted to get people down there,” Smeton said. “And we wanted to make more people informed and passionate about the issue.”

In advertising the event at Hopkins, Smeton said he went through the normal channels.

“The event, it did its own advertising for the most part,” he said.

“What we did was we posted on the daily announcements and our Facebook, the Office of Sustainability Facebook, and through word of mouth. Our ride share form, which is essentially a Google document that people would fill out—that’s the limit of what be did.”

By his estimation, Smeton said about 24 Hopkins students attended the rally.

“If you take it in pure numbers, it’s a low percent. If you look at it in terms of where we’ve been in the past, it’s growing a lot.”

The event boasted a series of speakers before the march to the White House began. Among them were Bill McKibben, the founder of, an activist group that touts itself as a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.

“[The speakers] were really great, really diverse,” sophomore Bailey Richards said. “[There was] everyone from people representing native Canadians to a big investor supporting action on climate change. And lots of climate scientists. I thought the diversity was one of the best things about the speakers.”

Richards was inspired by the atmosphere and passion of the ralliers.

“I’d never really been to a rally before,” she said. “At Hopkins you get a lot of people who are knowledgeable about climate change, but you don’t really find many people actively being passionate about it. At the rally there were so many people invested in this and passionate and willing to show their support.”

For many, like Richards, this was their first rally.

“I’ve always been personally invested in trying to combat climate change,” freshman Nick Mailloux said. “This was probably my first experience where I got to go somewhere where it was more public and my voice was being heard along with a huge group of other people who were invested in the same cause.”

Like Mailloux, freshman Mengli Shi felt like a part of the majority at the rally.

“I’ve always been sustainable and green,” Shi said. “I felt like I was a minority. But going to this rally, you could meet up with a ton of people of the same mindset.”

Like Richards, Mailloux had never been to a rally before.

Though there were thousands of people present, Mailloux said the atmosphere was not tense.

“The crowds were great,” he said. “Everyone’s there for the same reason. No one’s pushy and no one’s mean spirited or anything like that. It was just a big sense of camaraderie you could feel in the whole group. [The march] was the same camaraderie, just put in motion. Actually walking to the white house. Even if Obama wasn’t there, just the idea that someone there is peaking out a window and seeing all these people there.”

The rally was so large that Smeton and his group had time to eat and rejoin the march to the White House.

“It was insane. I think at one point we actually stopped for lunch while we were marching and then ate lunch, came back, and it’s a six lane road, people still continuously going and we managed to rejoin the line.”

Smeton captured the rally’s broader motivation, as well as his own investment in the cause.

“These issues are going to be affecting us,” he said. “This isn’t an issue affecting someone across the world. This is an issue affecting us and our future. So this rally is all about us. It’s about the people who are going to be inheriting the earth at this point.”

Though no rallies are  planned currently, Mailloux, Richards, Shi and Smeton said they would participate in another rally.

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