The sun rose high over Asbury Circle at noon this past Friday, Sept. 23 as over 100 students gathered to participate in Emory’s fourth Climate Strike. Amid the sign painting, excited chatter and festive music, the leaders of the Climate Coalition were preparing to get the strike going. The protest would be the crux of over a month of hard, impassioned work.
Student leaders in the Emory Climate Coalition (ECC) organized and led the event. The Coalition is a collaboration of student leaders from Emory Climate Organization (ECO), the Emory chapter of the Climate Reality Project and the Emory Climate Analysis and Solutions Team (ECAST).
The strike was initially planned in response to an allegation that Emory’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives (OSI) was going to be cut to zero-based budgeting, meaning OSI would have to justify its budgeting for all of its programs.
After it became clear the office’s budget would not be changed, the club decided to shift the strike’s demand “toward transparency” from the Emory administration, Hill said.
“Mostly, we think these climate strikes are really important for the administration to know how massive the student body support is and how much sustainability and campus environmental action means to all of us,” Hill said.
Many of the Climate Coalition leaders, such as Jack Miklaucic (23C), shared similar frustrations and demanded a greater commitment from the administration to take action against climate change.
“We need a ton of really transformative investment into [climate action initiatives], and we’re not getting it,” Miklaucic said. “The strike today was a really great way to get out some of that frustration and anger to try and make sure that the administration knows we’re really serious about all of these actions.”
With students holding cardboard signs and loudly chanting, the march through campus began.
The route went from Asbury Circle to the Quad, then toward White Hall where College of Arts and Sciences faculty had gathered for an event featuring a food truck and live jazz music. While students yelled chants such as, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ’cause the power of the people don’t stop!” and the White Hall event attendees briefly clapped before returning their focus to the jazz music, which was loud enough to drown out the students’ voices.
The two events happening right next to each other — the student-led climate strike and the gathering of Emory faculty and administrators — became a dramatic juxtaposition of the power dynamics at play in the students’ fight for more climate action on campus, ECC co-Vice President Will Hutchinson (24C) said.
“It was a pretty perfect juxtaposition of how it’s been feeling to us this whole time — that we’re screaming and [the administration] are just listening to jazz and doing their own thing,” Hutchinson said.
The march ended with a procession of speeches from the student leaders on the steps of the Administration Building. Catherine Wang (24C), Outreach Coordinator for the Climate Reality Project and SGA’s Vice President of Sustainability, delivered the opening speech with a loud and clear voice. From southern California, Wang told the Wheel they had witnessed firsthand how the increasing intensity and frequency of wildfires due to climate change has affected lives.
“The individual cannot outweigh the collective, but a collection of thousands of individuals has an impact,” Wang said. “We, as students, must use our privilege and push the institution to do better. I believe that when students come together, people in power pay attention.”
The anger and passion of the students who attend the strike has opened the doors for conversations with University leaders and tangible change, according to Clare McCarthy (23C), a founding member of the Emory Climate Coalition and former president of ECRP.
In October 2021, Emory Climate Coalition student leaders met with President Fenves. As a result of this meeting, President Fenves agreed to join the Race to Zero campaign and the Climate Leadership Network.
“With our in-person climate strike [in Fall 2021], Fenves started to notice us,” McCarthy said. “He was way more receptive than we expected, and he met our demands in our first meeting with him.”
In her speech during the climate strike this past Friday, Hill laid out a new set of four demands for the Emory administration: transparency regarding the OSI’s budgeting, a written commitment that the OSI will not lose funding for its core programs, additional funding for the OSI to fill important leadership positions and for Emory to prioritize sustainable in everyday actions.
Along with the foundations of anger and mistrust toward the Emory administration regarding climate action, the strike was infused with themes of hope and inspiration.
“I hope [students] take some hope from it,” Wang said. “That you are able to organize a bunch of people together and find the levers of change and pull them.”
Strike attendee Aliyah Cook (23C) said that climate justice “can feel like a really lonely battle sometimes,” but that being in the crowd made her feel hopeful.
“It was really invigorating,” Cook said. “I have a more optimistic outlook on [the climate crisis] now because I recognize how many people in our generation are very serious about protecting our future.”