Washtenaw community demands change in Global Climate Strike

Saturday, September 21, 2019 - 11:54am

Students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents gather for the Washtenaw County Climate Strike on Ingalls Mall Friday afternoon.

Students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents gather for the Washtenaw County Climate Strike on Ingalls Mall Friday afternoon. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

Naina Agrawal-Hardin, one of the lead organizers of the Washtenaw County Climate Strike and a junior at Washtenaw International High School, is worried for her future. 

“I’m here fighting for climate justice because I know that if we don’t fight for climate justice then we won’t have anything left to fight for,” Agrawal-Hardin said. 

Students, faculty and Ann Arbor residents gathered for the Washtenaw County Climate Strike on Ingalls Mall Friday afternoon. The strike included main-stage performances by activists, poets and musicians, as well as more than 25 workshops educating attendees on issues related to climate change such as “Green New Deal 101,” “Addressing Climate Change at Home,” “The Importance of Water in Indigenous Communities” and more. 

According to a tweet from 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, the leading figure of the #FridaysForFuture movement, more than 4,638 youth climate strikes took place Friday in more than 139 nations.

The movement began in August 2018 after Thunberg began protesting the lack of climate action from the Swedish government. Thunberg sat outside the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks and inspired a world-wide movement, led primarily by young people, to hold their nations accountable to cut greenhouse-gas emissions to maintain a below 2 degrees Celsius pre-industrial levels, in alignment with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Last March’s Washtenaw County Climate Strike, which had an estimated turnout of 2,500-3,000 people, led to the arrest of 10 students who participated in a 7.5-hour sit-in in the Fleming Administrative Building.

The students refused to leave until President Mark Schlissel addressed their demand for a one-hour public meeting about the University’s plan for combating climate change and attaining carbon neutrality without screening questions. Last week, the six demonstrators who were charged with trespassing appeared in court for a pretrial hearing in preparation for the official Oct. 10 trials. 

Efforts to combat climate change are not only being taken on by students, but also by local communities. On Wednesday, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to endorse a climate emergency declaration, signalling the onset of regional efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions and calling on the state of Michigan and the federal government to declare a climate emergency. 

At Friday’s strike, Business senior and co-president of Net Impact Gillian Cobb, who attended the event, described the student organization’s goal to promote sustainable business models. She explained how climate activism intersects with with many academic disciplines. 

“In Ross, sustainability and the environment aren’t talked about enough,” Cobb said. “As part of Net Impact, we want to make it an issue that people are aware of. Our members are all super passionate about finding a way to use business as a force for good, and we see sustainability not just as the right thing to do for corporations, but as a huge opportunity for them to be successful.” 

Business Junior and member of Net Impact, Jackie Spryshak, echoed Cobb’s sentiments. 

“It’s time. people are realizing that it’s time. CEO’s are realizing that it’s time.” Spryshak said. “The government won’t take action, we’re too goddamn polarized for the government to take a solid stance on climate change.”

Gus Teschke, a local activist and member of Ann Arbor Indivisible, took an alternative stance and called for greater individual action to contact U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich.. He and several other volunteers held up a sign asking constituents to reach out to Dingell’s office. 

“Debbie Dingell is a progressive democrat who can help plan to end the climate emergency,” Teschke said. “It’s like World War II. We need a plan. We need her to endorse the Green New Deal which is a high-level plan, it’s a statement of the problem, and it says we’re going to end the climate emergency without hurting working people and marginal communities.”

According to a press release issued Wednesday by Agrawal-Hardin, the strike was led by a coalition of young people that represent nearly every high-school in Washtenaw County and many middle schools. According to the release, local businesses such as Zingerman’s and Argus Farm Stop are also showing solidarity with the strike. 

Ypsilanti resident Lisa Bashert, an activist working for the Poor People’s Campaign in its Washtenaw County chapter, was one of the earlier volunteers at the strike. She briefly explained the issues that the campaign addresses, climate change being one of the principal ones, and a belief that music and art can act as resistance against these interconnected problems in society. 

“The Poor People’s campaign is seeing the connections between issues. We’re working toward, yes, environmental devastation which is also expressed in racism, poverty, all of our money getting funneled into the war economy,” Bashert said. “We’re trying to work on all those issues. That’s why I’m out here today.”