Two students came back from the People’s Climate March on Monday, seven days after it had ended, with quite a story to tell.A week after the People’s Climate March, four young men—two Goshen College students, one former student and a friend—finally returned to Goshen after traveling by car and bicycle from New York.
Roberto Ortiz and Miguel Rodriguez, both first-years, along with Nathan Overbey, an Elkhart resident, traveled to participate in the largest gathering for climate action to date separately from the Goshen College bus group. Alejandro Rodriguez, former GC student, came with the bus, but on Sunday opted to ride home in Ortiz’s car. All knew each other previously from Concord High’s marching band.
Ortiz became passionate about climate action and particularly capitalism’s role in it after watching the documentary “Disruption” several days before the Great March for Climate Action came through Goshen.
The original three left Goshen Friday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m. and drove through the night to Ohio, where they slept in a McDonald’s parking lot. On Saturday morning, they drove to Canada for a pit stop at Niagara Falls before heading to New York City.
The students tried to hear Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders speak Saturday night, but were turned away due to too many people showing up for after-march activities. Instead, the three were recruited for and participated in “We Will Not Be Silent,” a social justice artist/activist organization.
After sleeping in Ortiz’s car overnight, the students arrived at the People’s Climate March at 11:30 a.m. and joined the walk with the other 400,000 marchers until 4 p.m.
They joined the other Goshen students that night to sleep at a local church, and Monday morning Alejandro Rodriguez split off from the college group alongside the other three.
Ortiz and Overbey decided to participate in the Flood Wall Street movement, where they met in Battery Park for a protesting orientation. The Rodríguezes watched from the sidewalk. Participants walked on Broadway before charging Wall Street and sitting in protest for climate action. Someone ordered mass amounts of pizza and people played soccer or discussed political issues during the occupation.
Cops supervised the shrinking protest until 7:30 p.m. when media coverage left. A larger number of police, vehicles and a helicopter closed in on the remaining hundred people. The protesters linked arms, chanted and sang songs against climate change and capitalism.
New York City police made arrests, then bussed people to Manhattan Central Booking where they were questioned and held, separated by gender, in a large communal glass-walled cell. Both Ortiz and Overbey were arrested.
“The cops were really nice the whole time. My cop was like, ‘Why did you do it?’ I said I wanted to make a different and he said he could respect that. That was kind of a weird experience,” recounted Ortiz.
The two young men befriended many influential leaders while in jail, including Peter Galvin, director of the Center for Biological Diversity and a former Vermont senator.
Upon release around 4:30 a.m., the two met up with a supportive group offering food and warm clothing in a nearby plaza. They reunited with Alejandro Rodriguez and went back to the car, where Miguel Rodriguez had been waiting.
The four slept in the car in Chinatown that night before driving to eastern Pennsylvania. Their car broke down several miles out from small town called Clearfield. They called local police, who did not offer help, before pouring coolant into the engine and coasting 20 mph into town.
Because the car was too expensive to fix, the owner of a local restaurant helped the group sell it for parts to a junkyard. A nearby elderly couple offered to take the men to a homeless shelter, but ended up taking them to their house for the night instead.
No rental cars were available on Wednesday morning, so the group attempted to buy a horse and buggy from an Amish woman, but eventually decided to buy bikes instead. They did not have enough money for the 200-dollar per person bus ticket, but they called Galvin who wired them several hundred dollars.
On Thursday, Ortiz and Alejandro Rodriguez rode a tandem bicycle while Overbey and Miguel Rodriguez rode singles, and they became separated. Miguel slept overnight in another town, but all reunited the next morning.
During Friday and Saturday, the group suffered two bicycle breakdowns and hitchhiked several times with various strangers. Ortiz and Miguel Rodriguez made plans to drop out of college and ride bicycle to Argentina to start an activism group, with consent from their parents.
The four rode to Cleveland and bought bus tickets for Indiana, except for Alejandro Rodriguez who wanted to continue biking solo on the tandem. However, they slept through the night and missed the train.
Ortiz and Miguel Rodriguez were convinced not to drop out by a call from Galvin offering the two students a job to organize a bicycle ride for climate action this summer if they stayed in college as well as an encounter with a man in Cleveland.
“We met this guy named Kenny who was a doctor and a teacher. We told him our plans to drop out and he just went so hard on us. He told us, ‘You have no idea what you want,’” said Ortiz.
Rodriguez agreed, “Everything he tried to tell us convinced me to stay in school.”
“I was kind of rushing everything,” admitted Ortiz. “I was trying to rush my plans to help the world and then everyone reminded me I can slow down. We thought the cause was worth it but then we realized we weren’t investing in long-term success. Maybe we would have made it, but there’s so much depth and perspective that college can add to ourselves. There’s just so much to be learned from this collective that is Goshen College.”
Ortiz, Miguel Rodriguez, and Overbey arrived in Goshen Monday night.
Alejandro Rodriguez returned to Goshen Tuesday night after having joined another group of bikers in Ohio.
Both Ortiz and Miguel Rodriguez feel that they have learned their lesson, but would not trade or change their road trip experience.