Across 150 different countries, more than 4,600 protests took place and millions participated in strikes on Friday Sept. 20. This was all in order to demand urgent action from politicians and big businesses regarding climate change.A group of 12 students from Goshen College participated Friday morning in South Bend. Some skipped class to attend.
The protest was organized by the South Bend chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national group of young people organizing to stop climate change. Featured were speakers from many different walks of life, and participants across multiple generations were present.
Ben Zimmerman, sophomore sustainability management major, missed his Adventures in Business class in order to attend the climate strike.
“I feel that this is more important than school, because school is not going to matter if we end the planet and do not have a future,” Zimmerman said.
Along with college students, high schoolers, parents with young children, and lots of senior citizens were also in attendance.
Peter Smith, an older member of the Michiana Peace and Justice Coalition, spoke about reorienting people’s thoughts about climate change.
“People can picture nuclear war, but they don’t seem to realize that climate change is just as deadly,” Smith said.
Chris Shenacky, a South Bend native, attended the strike with her two young children and said that educating them was her main motivation for attending.
Jose Chiquito, a senior sustainability studies major, spoke about climate migration at the event. He described the sacrifices his parents made to bring him to this country and his childhood in Goshen, during which he always had an intrinsic love for nature. Tying together the themes of the climate crisis and immigration, he acknowledged that the issues are all interconnected.
“Being young doesn’t mean anything, until you suddenly realize that you are awake in the midst of a climate and human rights crisis,” Chiquito said. “The resilience wielded by parents, my parents, and the parents today that trek thousands of miles across countries for a better future for their children is the kind of inspiration that we need today.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, U.S. congresswoman from New York, recently launched a resolution for the Green New Deal with the Sunrise Movement. This protest was in part demanding action and showing support for the resolution on a national level.
At the South Bend protest, there was a local emphasis on holding presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, accountable.
Maddie Folley, a Notre Dame student, passed around a petition and said that “Mayor Pete has stated publicly that the Green New Deal is something that he would back, and we think that it is important that he actually act within South Bend to implement the same sort of policies and not just copy other people’s ideas, but actually stand up against climate change.”
Regarding Buttigieg’s environmental record, he has enacted a few green policies already, such as his Smart Streets Initiative which has created more bike lanes and better sidewalks, and is more accommodating towards public transportation. He has also invested in local parks and trails and signed the Pledge to Repower Indiana, as well as a pact to follow the Paris Climate accord.
The national strike was also held in anticipation of the United Nations Climate Action Summit, which was held in New York City on Sept. 23. Greta Thunberg, 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, has become a figurehead for the movement, and recently arrived via a 15-day voyage across the Atlantic in a carbon-neutral racing yacht.
At the summit Thunberg gave a speech, calling out the world leaders on their inaction, saying “This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
This movement, led by youth across the world, conveys a sense of urgency and responsibility. Youth are taking the matter into their own hands. The disastrous effects of climate change caused by generations of people before have become something that the newest generation will need to clean up.
The South Bend chapter of the Sunrise Movement is already planning more events for the upcoming months. The next protest will be held on Oct. 3 at 6:30, and the leaders are hoping for an even bigger turnout.