Cries of “Fossil fuels have got to go” rose into the air Friday afternoon as students in bright orange vests held up traffic, waving on at least 250 climate strikers marching through Uptown Normal.
Students at Illinois State University organized the event, one of hundreds of youth-led climate strikes taking place across the globe.
Jacob Van Wolvelear is an ISU senior and the strike’s chief organizer. He told the group the Global Climate Strikes are not the culmination, but the beginning of youth action to halt climate change.
“We’ll keep putting pressure on our governments and our institutions until meaningful change has occurred, because right now, we’re killing our planet and ourselves,” he said.
The group called for the federal government to declare a state of climate emergency, Congress to pass the Green New Deal, and Illinois to enact the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
Van Wolvelear said striking is a key strategy to spurring elected officials and corporations to action.
“Everyone keeps doing business as usual essentially, going to work, class, burning fossil fuels, and not really protesting in any meaningful way, and that’s what has to change. We have to disrupt business as usual,” he said.
While the group hopes to put pressure on powerful gatekeepers, ISU student and speaker Radiance Campbell said history’s most successful social movements combined both legislative and grassroots action.
“It will always be tempting to doubt the impact you can make ... but if nothing else, individual actions shift the culture from one of ‘There’s nothing I can do’ to ‘We can all do something,’” she said.
Campbell urged supporters to transfer their money from banks that support the fossil fuel industry to local credit unions, and move to a more plant-based diet.
“It takes 1/6th of an acre of land to feed a vegan for a year; it takes 18 times that to feed a meat-eater,” she said. “Changing your diet is the single-most impactful thing you can do as an individual.”
ISU student Kat Naughton said she and her friends had been talking about how to make their own impact for some time before deciding to join the strike.
“Climate change is a constant thought. It’s late September and it’s almost 90 degrees out here. It’s almost unavoidable to think about,” she said. Naughton said she recycles and tries to eat locally-grown foods, but thinks ultimately it’ll take action from major corporations and the government to halt carbon emissions and global warming.
Illinois Wesleyan University Professor of Physics Narendra Jaggi agreed the responsibility can’t rest solely on students’ shoulders, and urged climate strikers to use their platform to hold corporations accountable.
He suggested one reason the movement hasn’t spurred sufficient action in the decades since scientists issued the first climate change warnings is how the issue is framed.
“I have taught a class on gender rights for many years, and every year, the support increased, until we had almost national consensus and legislation,” he said. “We Americans respond to issues that are framed with justice and fairness, very different than issues that are framed with fear. It’s in our national character.”
Van Wolvelear’s parents joined the march, both to support their son and the cause. They carried a sign reading, “Baby Boomers: we made mistakes. It’s not too late to help correct them.”
Jane Van Wolvelear said her generation was and is still one of instant gratification.
“Nobody really did a lot of thinking as we were in our 20s about the future; you took care of today and that was it,” she said.
“And I don’t think it was malicious, I think it was a lack of awareness,” added her husband Jim.
The couple said they’re doing their part by talking to their peers about climate change, a reality Jim admitted some of his friends still deny.
Van Wolvelear said he and fellow students will meet soon to plan future action, including bringing local elected officials in on the discussion. His email address for those interested in getting involved is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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