Muhlenberg Students Lead Climate Strike

The protest, organized by student group Muhlenberg Strike Circle, called for pressure on elected officials to support climate change legislation.

By: Bill Keller  Friday, December 6, 2019 08:58 AM

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On December 5, Muhlenberg students organized a climate strike that drew dozens of peers, faculty, staff and community members.

A brisk December breeze blew as students began to gather on the amphitheater steps in Muhlenberg’s Parents Plaza. When the sound of the College’s noontime bells faded, strike organizer Maura O'Reilly ’20 stepped to a microphone and welcomed attendees to the day’s demonstration. As students, faculty and staff paused to check out the growing activity, fellow organizer Marda Rardin ’20 began to lead the crowd in chants of “no more coal, no more oil, keep our carbon in the soil.”

"This is a climate emergency," said O'Reilly, taking the microphone again. "I'm reminded of just how much we have to lose by not stopping this crisis. I became involved in climate justice work out of sheer panic for the future...I found myself having nightly panic attacks, feeling so tiny with an issue so big and immeasurable and existential."

"Can I see a show of hands, if you've ever felt panicked, or anxious or just so, so small in the face of it all, in the face of this crisis?" she asked. Most arms went up.

As the chants resumed, dozens more joined the students holding signs—messages like “Denial Is Not a Policy” and “Good Jobs and a Better Future” and “Clean Air, Clean Water, Clean Future”—or stopped to learn more about ways to participate in climate activism.

2019 Climate Strike - Maura O'ReillyO’Reilly—who is affiliated with the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate activism group— went on to detail the challenge of effecting meaningful change on climate initiatives. A global issue, one that should not be political, she told attendees, was not seeing the rapid action required to avert catastrophe. She reflected on the nationwide marches and protests that occurred this past September and generated surface-level support but little concrete movement from elected officials and world leaders.

“Tweets of support and retweets of [climate activists] Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villaseñor, pleas for a solution to this climate crisis, will not guarantee us an environmentally safe and livable future,” said O’Reilly. “That's where we come in. We are joining millions of young people across the world this week to demand that our politicians take action. Otherwise, we will vote them out.”

Protestors shared the link to an online petition that they intend to deliver to Congresswoman Susan Wild, who represents the district that encompasses Muhlenberg College, challenging her to pledge support for the Green New Deal and to refuse contributions from fossil fuel companies.

The petition also calls for Wild’s support of the Green New Deal Public Housing Bill, legislation proposed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that intends to transform the United States’ public housing into energy-efficient homes powered by renewable energy. According to Ocasio-Cortez's Congressional website, the bill would create hundreds of thousands of jobs annually and result in significant greenhouse emission reduction.

In an interview during the demonstration, O’Reilly shared that she and fellow students felt the time was right for a demonstration at Muhlenberg. After a large number of students attended September’s climate strike in New York City, they had expressed a desire to initiate more sustained and unified action among groups and individuals back on Muhlenberg’s campus.

O’Reilly detailed specific outcomes she hoped the day’s demonstration would achieve; in addition to the petition shared among attendees, an invitation was extended to join the group’s future meetings and a challenge was put forth for citizens to call on their politicians to back the Green New Deal and to follow through on existing pledges.

“If you support the goals of something, become part of the solution to make it work,” she said.