Oberlin Comes Together for Sunrise Climate Strike



On September 20th, 2019, a group of over 600 people gathered in Tappan Square for an international Climate Strike rally organized by Sunrise Oberlin. High schoolers, some of whom risked suspension by walking out of class, marched to join older community members and college students. The strike had five demands: the passage of a Green New Deal, increased respect for indigenous land, global environmental justice, protection of biodiversity, and global adoption of sustainable agriculture. Following the rally, Sunrise members led a series of teach-ins about climate activism, the Green New Deal, and environmental justice. 


Created in early 2019, Sunrise Oberlin is just one hub of 250+, part of a youth-led national movement focused on climate activism and the Green New Deal. Although the rally received much attention from the Oberlin community, it was not the first of Sunrise Oberlin’s political acts.


“I remember one of [Sunrise Oberlin’s] first actions was the Senator Sherrod Brown action on February 26, as a part of the larger Senate sprint. A bunch of people from different Sunrise hubs across the country went to their local Senator’s office and protested to get them to sign the Green New Deal pledge” said second-year Grace Smith, Sunrise National & Sunrise Oberlin social media coordinator. 


Though Sunrise Oberlin aimed to raise support for their demands, students attending the rally voiced a number of perspectives on climate change.


The issue of environmental justice, a featured topic at the rally, was high on student’s minds. Environmental justice deals with the way that systematic racial oppression translates to environmental issues. It manifests in many ways, including, less access to resources, proximity to pollution, and the heightened threat that natural disasters pose for black and brown communities.


Second-year Banu Newell expressed concern about environmental justice and was excited to see “so many people from Oberlin’s black and brown communities speaking out. This is a fight we all have to fight!”


An anonymous third-year student tied climate concerns to the current political atmosphere. 


“I think that the rejection of climate change by so many important world leaders, the fact that everyone denies it, and the destruction of the Amazon [rainforest are all important concerns]. Especially Brazil denying the UN’s 22 million dollars [to help fix the Amazon].”


For others, climate change is an issue that affects them personally. 


“For me, this threat is deeply personal. As a South Florida local whose house sits at an altitude of four feet, rising sea levels mean the threat of displacement for my family and everyone I grew up with. For many, these threats don’t just exist in the future. Already we see the insidious creep of climate gentrification in inland, historically black and brown neighborhoods, like Little Haiti in Miami, where developers seek land beyond the reach of ever-rising tides,” said second-year Faith Ward), a member of Sunrise Oberlin and the MC of the climate strike.


Finally, a great number of students were worried about what Oberlin itself was doing to help mitigate the effects of climate change, especially in the light of the college’s goal to be neutral for the environment by 2025, in conjunction with the town’s goal to be net positive by 2050.


“I mean obviously our sustainability could be better than it is all the time. I think there’s a lot of trash a lot around campus which isn’t great, and I think that the administration as an institution is respecting their need for money more than they’re respecting the environmental concerns of the student body,” said an Oberlin student that wishes to remain anonymous.


The impressive turnout at the climate strike adds a new layer to the prevailing debate about whether Oberlin students are politically apathetic. 


“I’d assume [Oberlin students would] at least understand a fair amount [about the climate crisis], probably as much as me … I’m just the kind of guy who takes the time to read publications on topics that … are necessary for me to be better educated about what’s going on around me. I’m pretty sure Oberlin as an institution encourages that kind of thought process and behavior in students” said first-year Oziah Wales. .


At the same time, other students remain  unconvinced that this is indicative of improvement of Oberlin’s engagement. 


“I think there’s definitely more apathy, but I don’t know whether it’s innate, or whether people just don’t see the point of preaching to the choir of Oberlin, because everyone’s pretty much on the same boat [in terms of political opinion],” said an Oberlin student who wishes to remain anonymous. 


No matter where you stand on this debate if you would like to get involved in climate advocacy, joining Sunrise Oberlin may be a viable route for you. In the wake of the climate strike, Sunrise Oberlin is focusing on coalition building and putting pressure on Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown to act on climate change. If you would like to be involved with Sunrise Oberlin, email sunriseoberlin@gmail.com or stop by a meeting. Sunrise Oberlin meets every Sunday at 4 p.m. in Wilder. There is also a Sunrise training day on October 6th where you can learn about Sunrise’s plan to achieve a Green New Deal and learn about important organizing skills to make it happen. The event is  all day, so feel free to stop by!

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