Lennox Cao/Sun Contributor

On March 25, Cornell students came together with local environmentalists, politicians and community organizers in support of climate justice initiatives, such as the Ithaca Green New Deal's equity goals.

March 27, 2022

“Think Globally, Act Locally”: Environmental Activists Advocate For Equity

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At a Friday, March 25 rally, more than sixty people gathered on Bernie Milton Pavilion in the Ithaca Commons in support of a variety of climate justice initiatives, including the Ithaca Green New Deal’s equity goals.

Among the attendees were members of the Sunrise Movement Ithaca chapter, Mothers Out Front, Cornell Climate Justice, Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, and Extinction Rebellion. While protestors’ reasons for attending the event varied, all emphasized the interconnectedness of climate change with other social issues.

Mothers Out Front is an organization formed by mothers who want to fight climate change and other social justice issues to make a better future for their children. For member Nora Brown, advocating for climate change is motivated by her one-year-old daughter, who Brown brought to the rally. 

“We are at a tipping point with the climate, we have to act fast if we want a safe future for them,” said Brown.

Brown said she would like to see Ithaca adopt more resilient methods of growing food to accommodate the changing weather, like those supported by New York State Senate bill S4722A, The Soil Health Act, which supports regenerative agricultural practices.

Many activists at the rally praised the progress made on the Ithaca Green New Deal since it was passed by the Ithaca City Common Council in 2019, but said they believe more focus needs to be placed on issues of equity. 

Luis Aguirre-Torres, the director of sustainability for the City of Ithaca, used his platform as a speaker at the rally to encourage continued unity for climate justice within Ithaca. 

“It is such a privilege to be a part of this community, to fight for something that is right,” said Aguirre-Torres.

In his remarks towards the end of the protest, Aguirre-Torres focused on the possible broader impacts of local climate justice activism and the importance of spreading awareness about climate change to one’s family, friends, representatives and city community. 

Aguirre-Torres also spoke about his office’s plans to make the city more sustainable, including a plan called Justice50, which aims to redirect 50% of the economic, social, and environmental benefits of the Ithaca Green New Deal to Climate Justice Communities, using the federal government’s Justice40 Initiative as a precedent. Justice50 has received support from many local activists, including Sunrise Ithaca hub coordinator Siobhan Hull.

“One of the two main goals of the Ithaca Green New Deal is to share the benefits among all of the local community in a way that reduces inequity,” Hull said. “We’re here to remind the Ithaca city government that they promised that and to encourage them to take action.”

Hull said that she would like to see more community engagement in the Ithaca Green New Deal’s implementation through public meetings where local residents could have a say in its execution, as well as a formal definition of “climate justice communities” through a Common Council resolution.

The rally also featured other speakers, including Taili Mugambee, the director of Ultimate Reentry Opportunity — a local organization that helps formerly incarcerated individuals rejoin the Ithaca community — and Christa Núñez, director of The Learning Farm. These speakers emphasized the importance of building communal trust in order to better address climate change and social issues.

“Our minds and our hearts have to be invested in each other,” Mugambee said. “That’s why the premise for my speech was that love conquers all, but also that love also heals as well.”

Members of Ithaca’s Democratic Socialists chapter, including chapter secretary Jane Glaubman and Common Council member Jorge Defendini  ’22, were also in attendance on Friday and told protesters about the Ithaca DSA’s campaign for free TCAT access. According to the Ithaca DSA’s website, more frequent, free buses could reduce the carbon footprint of transportation by making cars less necessary and transportation accessible and affordable.

The rally also featured a significant student presence from Ithaca High School, Ithaca College and Cornell University. According to Kylie Golden-Appleton, an Ithaca High School student and Sunrise Ithaca organizer who helped plan the rally, she and others informed other Ithaca High School students about the protest on the school’s announcements. Ithaca High School students Illah Jefferis and Simon Cohen also spoke at the rally. Cohen gave a speech, and Jefferis read a poem that she wrote called the 6 Stages of Climate Grief.

“I’ve heard a lot about climate burnout, and just feeling really anxious about it. That’s definitely a common theme between me and my fellow high schoolers,” Jefferis said. “But I really wanted to capture that in the poem as well as that feeling empowered, trying to speak out about climate justice.”

Congressional candidate Vanessa Fajans-Turner and Finger Lakes Climate Reality Project Ithaca chapter chair Thomas Hirasuna Ph.D. ’91 said they appreciated the degree of student involvement, and want to see more adults involved as well.

“It’s really important that we show up to take messages from impressive young leaders like those who spoke and organized the event yesterday and to affirm our responsibility as decision-makers and leaders who have come before them to lead on action,” Fajans-Turner said. “This cannot be the primary responsibility of today’s youth. This is not their fault. The world that we are leaving to our next generations is one that we really have to ensure is safe and sustainable for all.” 

For Ithaca High School students at the rally, Friday was part of a broader effort to use public protests to show their government how much Ithacans care about addressing climate change and related social issues.

“We are the ones that are going to be living through this crisis,” said Ithaca High School student Eden Lewis. “I think that it’s important to center the voices of youth and marginalized communities or those who are being affected by climate change the most.”