On Friday, students and Ithaca residents filled Ho Plaza holding signs with messages, including “People Not Profit,” “Dear Biden, Declare a State of Emergency. Sincerely, We the People” and “The Wrong Amazon is Burning.” Climate Justice Cornell organized this demonstration, a part of the international youth-organized Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike movement.
Climate Justice Cornell is a university organization advocating for climate change on both local and national levels, emphasizing how climate change is a social justice issue affecting marginalized groups the most.
“We wanted to participate in Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike, but also we wanted to draw attention to climate justice in particular which I think the larger strike might not do as well,” said Sachi Srivastava ’25, CJC’s general body organizer who helped to administer the strike. “We also wanted to make it about the community and pass out some general education about climate justice.”
In addition to CJC members, other students, faculty and local Ithacans also joined the strike.
“I am really interested in taking action on climate and advocating for something I strongly believe in,” said Kathryn McIntyre ’25 regarding her participation in the strike.
The strike started with a reading of Cornell’s land acknowledgment for the Ithaca campus followed by a speech by Ithaca Council Member Jorge DeFendini ’22.
DeFendini’s speech began with an acknowledgment of Hispanic Heritage Month and the recent devastation to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Fiona, highlighting the intersection between issues of climate change, race, and colonialism.
“I saw someone from the island say, ‘Puerto Rico’s present is your future,” DeFendini said. “It is imperative that the movement for climate change is also a movement for racial justice and decolonization.”
In addition to Hurricane Fiona, the strike highlighted the effect of climate change on other international communities. Alyssa Kamath ’24, president of Cornell’s South Asian Council, spoke about the series of recent flooding in Pakistan.
“For weeks, Pakistan has endured apocalyptic floods that have displaced countless individuals and harmed communities and ecosystems alike. This ongoing tragedy cannot be dismissed as an individual issue solely for Pakistan to shoulder,” Kamath said. “Those who are facing the brunt of environmental degradation are not the ones responsible for creating such systematic destruction.”
The strike also showcased local climate change problems in Tompkins County. Ithaca Mayoral Candidate Katie Sims ’20 spoke about the need for local climate action.
“In every place, we need the people who live there to be the ones to make and execute climate action because no one else will know what the equitable way to do it is,” Sims said.
Proponents of the FreeCat movement, which advocates for free and expanded mass transit in Tompkins County, spoke on the need for a more sustainable and equitable transit system.
“Pollution from cars and absence of a mass transit system that works for everyone is only making things worse,” DeFendini said. “A society built around cars is not a sustainable one.”
“FreeCat is a movement that should just be a basic right for all students to be able to transport themselves easily and freely without having to worry about the extra costs,” said Metztli Maldonado ’25, the internal reform coordinator for CJC. “On top of that, we also have issues with wages and working conditions for workers of TCAT. These are all things we want to invest in policy-wise this upcoming election.”
In between each speaker, the crowd participated in enthusiastic climate justice chants like “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “When our community is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
“I sensed a strong emotional aspect to this strike. People say mind-heart, but I teach Tai Chi, and we say heart-mind. We don’t need to tone down our emotions to be cerebral and I really saw that in the chants,” said John Burger, who teaches PE 1380: Tai Chi Chuan.
The strike concluded with a final chant: “Hey hey! Ho ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!”