CWRU students assemble to demand climate action

Yvonne Pan, A&E Editor

Coinciding with Jane Fonda’s New York Times opinion piece “We Have to Live Like We’re in a Climate Emergency. Because We Are.,” published on Dec. 5, 2019, was the Sunrise Movement’s Dec. 6 climate strike, occurring in four cities in Ohio alone, as well as in Sweden and South Africa.

About 100 people gathered at the Kelvin Smith Library (KSL) Oval on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 from 12:45 to 2 p.m., chanting and waving signs with messages like “Green Jobs for All” and “This is an Emergency Act Like It.” 

A strike on Black Friday was originally in consideration but was postponed to avoid hurting consumers who depended on the day to get products at lower prices. However, other organizations from all over the world demanded action, protesting in bustling areas like Watertower Place in Chicago and outside the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

Dec. 6 fell during the UN Climate Change Conference, from Dec. 2 to Dec. 13.

Sunrise Movement, founded in April 2017, unites young people in a fight to stop climate change and end an era of corrupt politics, driven by bias from fossil fuel executives. However, the Sunrise hub at Case Western Reserve University is even newer, having held its first meeting on Oct. 13 last year. 

Second-year student Avi Horwitz founded the Sunrise CWRU chapter after hearing about Sunrise from a friend from high school who was involved in the Chicago chapter. Horwitz attended a Sunrise Cleveland meeting in early September, before the Sep. 20 climate strike, but decided to develop a hub on campus as most members were located in Lakewood and meetings were inconvenient to get to from campus without a car.

The novelty of the chapter has not deterred it from making an impact. The climate strike was its first event, co-hosted with Ohio Climate Strike, an organization whose team includes third-year student Nick Vitello who is head of coordination and action planning.

The strike drew a diverse crowd of high school students, adults and students from both CWRU and Cleveland State University students. Groups like Party for Socialism & Liberation and Socialist Revolution were also present, handing out flyers to demonstrators.

Sunrise CWRU received generous support from the CWRU community: about 80 percent of the demonstrators were CWRU-affiliated, from organizations like the Student Sustainability Council, Radical Student Union and Greek Life members. The hub also received support from the Greek Life Office and the Social Justice Institute.

The strike consisted of several chants like:

“That’s bullshit, get off it, 

this land is not for profit” and

“Exxon-Mobil, BP, Shell,

Take your shit and go to hell”

Chants like these riled the crowd, who, with the assistance of the rhymes, soon got the hang out of it.

However, demonstrators quickly quieted down as speakers grabbed the microphone—and their attention. Speakers included Daniel Brown, co-founder of Rust Belt Riders, a company that partners with over 150 organizations to divert over 50,000 pounds of compostable waste a week from entering landfills and Yvonka Hall, the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition. The non-profit is the “first organization in the State of Ohio dedicated to addressing disparities in health, employment, housing and education in the community.”

“When our Congresspeople won’t stand up for us, when our council people won’t stand up for us, when our legislators won’t stand up for us, it’s time for us to stand up for ourselves,” Hall said.

Other speakers included second-year student Emily Bence, alumni Kameron Damaska (CWRU ‘16) and third-year student Greg Melnyk, providing a peer point of view that resonated with many of the demonstrators.

Despite the impressive turnout, “one of the problems with the climate movement, and other movements in general, is moving people when you have widespread support and turning that into sustained action and involvement,” Horwitz said.

And with only 10 years left to act before we reach the point of no return, according to the UN climate change report, that action is more critical than ever.