More than 100 University of Michigan students protested for climate justice on Friday afternoon as part of a class walkout organized by Fridays for Future, a global youth movement committed to striking for stronger climate policies.
During the protest, student activists presented a list of demands to the University, including that they declare a climate emergency and fully divest from fossil fuels. At the Board of Regents meeting last March, the University committed to divesting from companies with the largest greenhouse gas contributions and to achieving a net-zero endowment by 2050. This vote came after years of activism from student groups on campus who called on the University to take immediate action to reach carbon neutrality and divestment.
Students at the protest marched across campus, looping around North University Avenue, State Street and South University Avenue. As they walked near the Law Quad, many student protesters stopped by Schlissel’s house, showing support for the survivors of sexual abuse from late University athletic doctor Robert Anderson.
For more than a week, former University football player Jonathan Vaughn, a survivor of Anderson, has staged a sit-in outside of Schlissel’s house to demand that the University create stronger protections for survivors of sexual abuse and meet with Anderson’s victims.
During their march, students repeated “No more coal, no more oil, keep that carbon in the soil,” “Hey hey, ho ho, climate change has got to go” and “Exxon Mobil, BP, Shell: take your filth and go to hell.”
LSA sophomore Lexi Crilley, who serves on the Students for Clean Energy‘s policy team, read the demands at the protest.
“We’re tired of the University’s goals to make more goals,” Crilley said. “The endless empty promises of the institution. So until these demands are met, we will continue striking. We’ll keep protesting.”
LSA senior Elena Swirczek spoke to the crowd about the role of hope in combating climate change. She said it can be difficult to feel optimistic in the face of worsening news about the climate, such as the report published this year by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that found that human-created climate change will raise the globe’s temperature by 1.5℃ to 2.0℃ during the 21st century “unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”
Swirczek said despite these grim predictions, a “doom and gloom” attitude can lead to inaction.
“Hope is an action that can be constant, even when the feeling is not,” Swirczek said. “Because if we don’t take any action, we’ve already lost.”
Swirczek urged the protestors not to feel like they have to be perfect activists to bring about progress. Instead, she said, they should focus on working together to demand system-wide changes.
“Find the people building power and join them,” Swirczek said.
Another speaker, LSA junior Zackariah Farah, discussed how almost 50% of the overall power from DTE Energy, which provides the majority of both on- and off-campus electricity, comes from coal. Farah is the LSA Student Government vice president and a member of Ann Arbor for Public Power, an organization advocating for Ann Arbor to create a municipal power grid instead of relying upon DTE.
“We have been failed by leaders on the local level, on the state level and on the federal law,” Farah said. “We know we’re not switching over to renewables at the speed that we need to be.”
Farah later said he is disappointed with the University’s budget management, criticizing the recently announced retirement package for University President Mark Schlissel that will continue to pay Schlissel at his presidential rate for two years after his resignation.
“But they can’t find the money when we need to invest in renewables to provide ourselves (and) this generation with a decent future,” Farah said. “That is, again, crazy.”
Farah challenged Schlissel to invest the $2 million he will receive after his resignation from the position of president to renewable energy initiatives on campus.
In an interview with The Daily, LSA senior Maddie Blum, a student who attended the protest, reflected on the history of climate change activism on campus.
“I felt like it was very personal and personable, just because there were a lot of people who are students and kind of sharing how they’ve gotten involved in (activism),” Blum said. “I hope they do this again.”
Daily Staff Reporter Nirali Patel can be reached at email@example.com and Daily Staff Reporter Eli Friedman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.