Sarah White

Spring semester of 2020, as inklings of the pandemic were just beginning to hit the news, I was helping to facilitate a college study abroad program on Climate Justice. To begin the semester, our group of 30 students crowded into the top floor of a wonderful community space/free library in Oakland, California where we all watched the documentary Necessity. After the film, co-founder and ED of the Climate Defense Project Kelsey Skaggs humbly shared their life journey and relationship to climate work.

Only a few weeks later, after the students learned about the climate effects on the communities of the Mekong Delta while in Vietnam, and had arrived in Morocco to hear from urban activists, COVID-19 interrupted the program and the lockdowns began. For a harrowing week my colleagues and I worked around the clock to organize emergency evacuations for the students while borders were closing everywhere. And while everyone was eventually ‘repatriated,’ much to the credit of their own self-organizing efforts, that schism, that disruption to our learning community was never fully addressed. I, along with many around the globe, lost my livelihood.

Yet, in my long period of unemployment, I began to put into practice some of the things I had previously only taught about in classrooms around the world. Instead of teaching about social movement theory, I became part of social movements. From the George Floyd uprisings to Black Lives Matter to Defund/Abolish the Police to union organizing to Defund Line 3 to Palestinian solidarity, my praxis shifted from the classroom to the streets. Today marks two years and almost two months since I last gathered together in person with a group of students to learn about climate disobedience.

And while I haven’t had the privilege to facilitate this brilliant lesson ‘Teaching Climate Disobedience‘ amidst the collapse of the study abroad industry, I learned how to embody my own practice in a new way. I came into deeper relationship with organizers and activists, with nowhere else to be during the pandemic but in the streets, having each other’s backs. So when Indigenous leadership from Minnesota made the call for all people to gather to uphold their treaty rights, I became part of that story as well. One day soon I will work with students again, and when I facilitate the climate justice mixer, I can share my personal stories of being on the frontlines with Tara Houska and the many thousands of people who stood up to the oil and gas industry in the summer of 2021.