Amidst chants of “system change, not climate change!” and “no more coal!”, hundreds of Cornell students and faculty members marched to the Commons on Friday. The march, one of over 4,000 protests occurring this week for the Global Climate Strike, called for divestment from fossil fuels and a federal Green New Deal, among other reforms.
“Striking is a really influential tool,” said march organizer and Climate Justice Cornell member Ellie Pfeffer ’23. “Obviously we don’t want to strike. We want our leaders to have the courage to fight the climate crisis in a way that matches its scope. But unfortunately that’s not happening yet.”
The protest on Ho Plaza began with Colin Benedict, a member of the Mohawk nation from the Akwesasne territory, who recited the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address.
“Indigenous sovereignty and climate change are inherently linked with each other. We [indigenous people] have been living on this continent sustainably since time immemorial,” Benedict said. Organizers continued to stress the importance of climate justice and respect for native lands over the course of the event.
Following the Haudensaunee Address, Pfeffer, along with other student leaders from CJC and Cornell ECO, taught a crowd of hundreds their “climate strike song” and distributed chant sheets.
After half an hour of rallying, they were joined by a procession of protestors from Rand Hall, the site of a simultaneous flag-raising ceremony to promote “the agency of designers” as a means to “channel concerns about the environment,” according to artistic director Rania Ghosn.
Citing the importance of youth protest, several instructors cancelled class for the strike, including Prof. Bruce Monger, environmental science, whose 1,000-person oceanography lecture is one of the largest at Cornell.
“I stress to students the importance of taking what you learn in class and acting on it,” Monger said. “Winning the climate action battle will take steadfast resolve by ordinary people.”
The march drew a variety of campus groups, from the Cornell Vegan Society to Pi Beta Phi and the hockey team. While some demonstrators said they were rallying out of fear for their futures, others participated because they had already felt the impact of natural disasters linked to climate change.
At the Ho Plaza rally, sophomore George DeFendini spoke about the effect of Hurricane Sandy on his hometown of Queens: “It was a scene out of a horror film and the setting was my neighborhood.”
At 11:30, DeFendini and other protesters marched to the Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons, where they joined grassroots organizers from the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion and Mothers Out Front, among other groups. There, crowds grew to nearly 1500 people, according to estimates from the Ithaca Police.
Among the demonstrators were Ithaca high school and middle school students.
“I am here because this is our planet and we only have one,” eighth-grader Aeron Jauquet said. “People need to realize, especially the government, that we are not just going to let them destroy our planet.”
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09, a major supporter of the Ithaca Green New Deal, also attended.
“Climate change is the largest threat to my future.” Myrick told The Sun. “We need to be carbon neutral citywide by 2030. And we need to get there in a way that provides economic opportunity and social justice to people who have been locked out of the system in the past.”
As for reforms the University can take, CJC emphasizes divestment from fossil fuels as a main priority.
“It is immoral that [Cornell is] profiting off of killing our future,” CJC member Nicholas Sutera ’22 said.
“The university is trying to be an organization for truth while supporting fossil fuel companies that distort the truth of climate change.”
Cornell ECO organizer Colton Poore ’20 said he wasn’t sure if the protest would lead to immediate reform. Poore is also an opinion columnist at The Sun.
“I don’t know if we’re expecting a transformative change at the local level.” But, he reflected, “I certainly view the strike as an opportunity for the sustainability movement to have a more prominent position on campus.”