In a crowd outside the Mayer Campus Center that overflowed onto Talbot Ave., university students attended a strike last Friday to demand action on the climate crisis before joining a crowd of more than 7,000 protestors at City Hall Plaza in Boston.
The Tufts contingent, organized by Sunrise Movement Tufts, Tufts Climate Action and a coalition of other activism groups on campus, coincided with a day of global climate protests in which masses of young people on every continent poured into the streets to denounce government inaction on climate change.
“My priority right now is not my math class,” Caitlin Colino, an organizer for Sunrise Movement Tufts who put together much of the action leading up to Friday’s strike, said. “My priority right now is saying to our governments that radical policy change has to be made immediately in order to save our planet.”
Students congregated outside the Campus Center around 10:15 a.m. on Friday, where Ella McDonald, another organizer for Sunrise Movement Tufts, energized the crowd with a collection of songs and chants. Colino, a sophomore, and fellow organizer Olivia Freiwald then addressed the group.
“I’m so honored to be here and to know that you are fighting here too,” Colino said.
Colino and Freiwald, a junior, told stories of their own personal connections to the climate crisis. They emphasized climate change’s disproportionate impact on low-income communities and communities of color, highlighting the need for environmental justice, a transition that invests in prosperity for those on the front lines of poverty and pollution, to be part of any government action regarding the climate.
Above all, the two activists stressed the urgency of the situation.
“Business as usual is a death sentence for our generation,” Freiwald said, inciting a roar of applause from the crowd of students.
Friday’s strike was supported by a coalition of Tufts activism groups including Students for Environmental Awareness, Tufts Labor Coalition, United for Immigrant Justice and more than ten others.
Colino also said that while initially thinking about how to participate in Friday’s global action, Sunrise Movement Tufts was planning on simply offering an easy way for students to get to the strike in Boston. However, she said that the groups decided to hold their own strike at Tufts in order to call attention to the university’s role in perpetuating the climate crisis through its investments in the fossil fuel industry.
“We want to send a message that students here — including alumni, faculty and grad students — all care about the university’s involvement in perpetuating and causing climate change,” Hanna Carr, an organizer for Tufts Climate Action, said. “And we hope that through our activism, the university will ultimately divest from fossil fuels.”
Tufts Climate Action has been pressuring the university to divest from its investments in fossil fuels, which account for 2% of the university’s total assets, since 2012. According to a 2014 statement from University President Anthony Monaco, the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate passed a resolution organized by Tufts Climate Action in February 2013 asking the Tufts Board of Trustees to refrain from any new investment in fossil fuel companies, which was followed by a student referendum that passed in the fall urging the university to divest from fossil fuels entirely.
In 2014, however, the Board of Trustees accepted the recommendations of a Tufts Divestment Working Group report, whose majority opinion was not to divest.
On March 31 this year, TCU Senate unanimously passed another resolution organized by Tufts Climate Action calling on the university to transition to a carbon neutral endowment and to disclose information on Tufts’ connection to the fossil fuel industry; however, according to Carr, a senior, the Board of Trustees has yet to acknowledge the resolution.
“Tufts signed a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050, and while they have been operationally moving towards that goal, their investments have not been part of the conversation,” Carr said. “Tufts prides itself on active citizenship — but right now, they are still financially supporting the institutions that are most to blame for climate change.”
The resolution calls for a response by October 2019.
Following Colino and Freiwald’s remarks at Friday’s strike, Carr and fellow Tufts Climate Action organizers Celia Bottger and Erica Nork, both seniors, explained the university’s connections to the fossil fuel industry. They then called on Tufts to do something about it.
“Our school should care about our future,” they said together. “Tufts University, will you lead with us?”
Tufts a capella group Essence performed following the organizers’ remarks, concluding actions at the Campus Center.
Student activists then led the crowd down College Avenue as they marched to Davis Square and boarded the Red Line in waves. The protestors rode to Park Street, where they eventually joined the Boston climate strike at City Hall Plaza. By the time the Tufts group got there, thousands of young people had already converged on City Hall Plaza to push for more aggressive action on climate change.
The Boston climate strike was planned entirely by people under the age of 20 who, at the rally, proclaimed themselves the “generation of the Green New Deal.” In addition to youth organizers with Massachusetts Climate Strike, speakers included former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu, Mayor Marty Walsh and Hartman Deetz of the Mashpee-Wampanoag tribe, according to WBUR.
After the speakers delivered their remarks, the youth organizers marched to the Massachusetts State House with thousands of people in tow. A majority of the crowd converged on its steps, while a few hundred people — led by the youth organizers with Massachusetts Climate Strike — entered the State House.
Standing inside Memorial Hall, the activists called for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to come out of his office to respond to their demands: that he declare a statewide ecological emergency, that lawmakers pass policies that help people who live in already poor and polluted areas and that Massachusetts stop using fossil fuels and stop building infrastructure to support it.
When Baker did not make an appearance, the youth organizers vowed that they would be back next week.
The strike in Boston was one of more than 800 actions that took place in the U.S. alone on Friday in advance of a major United Nations climate summit. Organizers estimated Friday’s turnout to be around four million in thousands of cities and towns worldwide, according to The New York Times.
The global strike was largely inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose one-person strikes in Stockholm have ignited an international movement to demand action on the climate crisis. In August 2018, Thunberg began skipping school on Fridays to protest outside Swedish parliament, contending that her studies were insignificant when compared to the impending climate crisis.
Similarly, Elliott Trahan, an organizer for Sunrise Movement Tufts, said that a professor once asked him why he was still sitting in class if he truly believed in the urgency of climate change. It was Trahan’s inability to come up with an answer that led him to devote himself to Sunrise this semester and to demanding action on the climate crisis more generally.
“This is an emergency,” Trahan, a sophomore, said. “Let’s act like it.”