On Friday, September 20, Swarthmore students stood in front of Parrish Hall before heading to march outside Philadelphia City Hall as part of a global youth climate strike calling for a response to climate change. The event at Swarthmore was spearheaded by the Sunrise Movement club, a subsidiary of a national organization and network of hundreds of thousands of young people. Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year old Swedish climate activist who has taken time off school to call for stronger responses to climate change, inspired the climate strike around the world.
Hundreds of students and dozens of faculty members gathered on Parrish Beach to kickstart the day. Many of them had missed or canceled class to attend the event. In front of the large crowd, students, as well as guest speakers, stepped up to call attention to the ways climate change is plaguing numerous communities around the world. Hannah Pait ’22, a member of Sunrise, spoke at the rally about the need to take immediate action.
“We are striking today because our generation knows that we cannot sit and watch as our futures are being threatened by climate inaction …We have a handful of fossil fuel billionaires and corrupt politicians; they have been blocking action against climate actions for decades, but today young people around the world are rising up in record numbers to address this emergency. This is the largest youth strike ever,” declared Pait, emphasizing the role that young people have to change the future tides of history.
Adding on to the students’ vigor, President Valerie Smith announced that day that she has signed the Sustainable Development Goal’s Climate Emergency Letter. The letter is part of the “SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) Accord,” organized by numerous organizations such as the UN Environment Program and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The goal of the accord is to mobilize institutions and encourage them to study and combat climate change.
The chants, cheers, and speeches were invigorating for many students. Lysandra Fegan’23 mentioned that she had never had the opportunity to discuss or participate in the movement to stop climate change before coming to Swarthmore.
“I feel grateful that I can be surrounded by like-minded people, people who are all coming together for the same exact reason that I am, and for us all to be in a similar mindset and want something to change. It was just a beautiful moment,” Fegan said.
At approximately 11:00 a.m., the Swarthmore students took SEPTA down to City Hall together to join thousands of other members and supporters of the Sunrise Movement and its subsidiaries across universities in Pennsylvania. The crowd filled the area outside Philadelphia City Hall and spilled out into the entire length of John F Kennedy Boulevard.
“I was impressed by the number of people that showed up, coming from San Diego where a lot of the rallies were localized,” Maya Tipton ’23 said. “There were definitely thousands, maybe tens of thousands. It really made the movement feel more powerful and made me feel like I was a part of a greater movement.”
Together, the protestors cheered, sang, and marched around City Hall, calling for the government to make a change.
“It was kind of cool how we were all strangers, but you know, we could look at each other and, and say, ‘Hey, like we’ve known each other forever, just because we’re all there marching for the same exact thing,” Greg Boatman ’23 said.
The Sunrise Movement and the Swarthmore Sunrise hub was founded only two years ago. In 2017, members of Mountain Justice, a fossil fuel divestment campaign on campus, became involved in the newly sprouting national movement, Sunrise. By the end of the year, the club relaunched itself as Swarthmore’s Sunrise Movement. One of the key people that facilitated the club’s transformation is senior, Gabriel Brossy de Dios. To Brossy de Dios, the thousands of people that showed up felt unreal considering how the movement began.
“The whole national group started just two years ago, basically. It’s grown from literally twelve people and maybe ten or so active chapters around the country. And it has grown to over 200 hubs around the country—to the point where we can have thousands of people coming out to protests and things like that. It’s become a much, much bigger force,” Brossy de Dios said.
According to Brossy de Dios and Carolyn Chang ’22, a fellow member of Swarthmore’s Sunrise Movement, the growth can be accredited to both national attention gained from the sit-in in Nancy Pelosi’s office, which was another Sunrise-organized event, and also people’s growing interest in the possibility of concrete solutions to the issue of climate change, such as the Green New Deal U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposed earlier this year. This deal is proposed legislation that would offer a pathway for the United States to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and convert entirely to renewable energy by 2030.
“To have AOC come in during the sit in and be like, I’m going to have a Green New Deal. And being something that’s really flashy and coming from a new member of the House of Representatives, I think brought a lot of attention to Sunrise,” Chang said.
Brossy de Dios also emphasized how the march, as well as President Smith’s declaration that Swarthmore is in a state of climate emergency, is an opportunity for people to not only take a good look at how their actions are affecting the climate, but also how climate change is affecting certain groups of people, such as low-income communities or communities of color. “I think that the vision of having a Green New Deal nationally is something that is inspiring to a lot of people, because it really ties together the issue of climate change with a lot of other issues like racial justice, economic justice, things like that. And so, I think that that really speaks to a lot of people. And I think that that draws people to Sunrise in a way that that they might not have been drawn to it before,” Brossy de Dios said.
Along these lines, Brossy de Dios stated that the Sunrise group at Swarthmore are now planning to host ‘vision meetings,’ where they will invite student communities on campus to ‘envision’ how they would like the school to respond to the climate emergency.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on 2:40 pm, September 26th to correct an error. President Smith did not attend the climate rally because she was at a Board of Managers meeting and did not speak at the rally as this article previously stated.