Guest Post from Vera Cecelski, student at Williams College

Early Monday morning, in the middle of Boston, with bright streetlights and roaring street cleaners all around, I wake up. For a moment, I forget where I am—it’s dark, and there are voices shouting somewhere close by, and a flashlight beam is wandering across the inside of my tent. Nothing looks or feels like my familiar Williams dorm room.

Gradually, the blur of voices resolves into words (“Everyone, out of the tents! Everybody out, NOW!”), and I remember what I’m supposed to be doing.  I slip on shoes and stagger out into the darkness, winding my way between tents to the crowd of people standing nearby. In near silence, we stand and shiver a little, watching the police clear out the rest of our tents. Before long, there are a hundred and fifty of us huddled together and the police are giving us their warning.

We were all told that we would have this chance, that we would be warned and given the opportunity to leave the common and avoid getting citations. There is a momentary tension, people’s shoulders tightening against the cold, but only a few people leave slowly. A police officer addresses my friend and I directly: “Hey, ladies, you can leave now, you know. If you just walk right up there, you won’t have to deal with this.” He looks concerned. “If you just leave in the next two minutes you won’t get a citation.” We smile and nod, “We know, we know, thank you, we’re staying.” We reassure him and he nods at us and moves on down the line.

One of the student leaders walks by, counting heads, and we catch his attention, getting the latest count on how many people stayed: over 120 Massachusetts college students willing to receive trespassing citations for the sake of clean energy activism.  One hundred and twenty of us, standing in long lines in a city park to give our names and addresses to patient police officers.

As I wait in line, my legs shaking with cold, or maybe adrenaline, or (most probably) both, I realize:

Twelve hours ago, I had been studying biology in the library, pouring over a textbook chapter about membrane potential.

Ten hours earlier, I was on Williams Campus, packing up a sleeping bag and extra pairs of warm socks.

Eight hours before, I was halfway across Massachusetts, piled in a car with three other people, chattering about classes and how we got interested in protecting the environment.

Six hours earlier, I was hearing my first protest legal briefing and listening to Bill McKibben tell stories of his first arrests in the name of climate change.

Five hours ago, I was huddled in a church with crowds of other students, crammed on to benches with our laptop screens glowing, finishing up a history paper.

Two hours earlier, I felt the first pump of adrenaline as the first cop car pulls up, only to leave after warning us that they would be back at 2:30 a.m.

An hour and a half before this, I was meeting new people, talking with kids from our rival Amherst and comparing campus sustainability issues.

A solid hour and fifteen minutes ago, I fell asleep in the chilly night air.

Twenty minutes ago, I woke up.

Ten minutes ago, I stayed where I was, and broke the law for the first time for the sake of the environment. It felt good.

The next morning I wake up and drive back to Williams.  I break the news of my citation to my parents as gently as possible, and start organizing an on-campus sleep out for the next week.