“If we believed that things would sort themselves out, we wouldn’t be here,” said 14-year-old Sarah LeClair. “If we believed that one voice couldn’t spark a rebellion, we wouldn’t be here. If we believed that obedience was the engine of justice, we would not be here!”
About 1000 people, mostly students and young people, marched from Burnside Park, through Providence, and ultimately to the Rhode Island State House where members of the Sunrise Movement took Governor Gina Raimondo to task for repeatedly declining to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and for not publicly committing herself to passing a Green New Deal for Rhode Island.
It was all part of the Rhode Island Climate Strike, now the largest climate protest in Rhode Island’s history, and the largest youth organized protest as well.
Most of those participating in the Climate Strike cut school or work to be there. The action was coordinated by members of Sunrise Providence, Climate Strike RI and Climate Action Rhode Island (CARI) and was one of thousands of such events held around the world.
This year’s event in Providence was four times larger than last year’s.
“Young people have been leaders on climate action in our state and around the world and will continue to put pressure on leaders to enact policies that take the crisis seriously,” write organizers in a statement. ” In 2018, young people with the Sunrise Movement put the Green New Deal on the national agenda and permanently changed the conversation on climate policy in this country. Since then, the climate crisis has spiked to the top of the national agenda, becoming the top concern of Democratic primary voters. Now, young folks from across the ocean state are leading the charge in joining millions around the world to strike against the climate crisis and for an equitable and just future for all.”
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On the way to the State House the protesters first stopped at the National Grid Energy Innovation Hub, at 1 LaSalle Square, which the company describes as a “community space designed to elevate the conversation around the future of energy and the environment,” but Sunrise Movement organizer China Duff described as, “an embarrassing and perfect example of corporate green washing.”
At the State House, the student protesters called Governor Raimondo to task for “sneaking out” when the Sunrise Movement occupied one of her offices two weeks ago. They then dropped a large banner featuring a photo of the Governor ducking into her state car via the side entrance.
“Her staff told us she couldn’t talk to us because she was out of state,” said Sunrise Movement organizer Yesenia Puebla. “But actually, y’all, our cameraman captured a picture of Governor Raimondo sneaking out through a back door of the State House…”
While the Climate Strike activists were in the State House today, Governor Raimondo really was out of state, in Boston, speaking about the “green economy” at Horizon19 conference, a corporate event.
Let’s take the day in order:
As with all the Sunrise Movement events I’ve covered, it started with a song:
“We’re all here together because we know that this is an emergency,” said Sunrise organizer Estrella Rodriguez. “We know that this is the only planet we have and if we want to live on it, we must take bold action today. As young people, millions of us are standing all across the world, to strike for our climate, for our futures…”
“The global climate strikes kicked off when Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist started her Fridays for future movement in 2018,” said organizer Joelye Land. “She started protesting and camping out in front of the Swedish parliament every Friday to show the public the public that lawmakers were failing to uphold their commitments to reduce carbon emissions that were agreed to under the Paris Climate Accord.”
“I’ve been involved with environmental activism for just about a year now,” said organizer China Duff. “I used to think that everyone’s main priority should be to recycle correctly. My primary reason for starting an environmental action club at my school was to get the school to recycle. I put together a demonstration for the administration to show them the devastating impacts that they were making on the environment by not recycling.
“But then I visited Rhode Island’s landfill.
“I realized that the majority of things that people think they are recycling actually end up in the trash.”
Duff also encouraged her fellow classmates to help with beach cleanup, but after all this effort she realized, “all I had done was have some students pick up some trash and use metal straws.
“I realized that this wasn’t enough. We needed to get involved in changing the laws that allows this pollution to occur,” continued Duff. “I decided to join an environmental activism group and started getting involved in these kinds of actions. I realized that this was a battle I was ready to win, no matter how long it takes…”
After learning about climate change, “I felt so anxious,” said Evan Travis, a 14-year-old Sunrise member from South Kingstown. “I couldn’t do anything any more. I couldn’t fall asleep at night. I did not know what to do about my future and how I was going to be able to survive.
When his father told Evan about the Global Climate Strike last March, “I was like, Yes! This is something I need to do. I hadn’t been able to do anything that felt like I was contributing at all for an entire year…”
At the climate strike Evan “learned more in two hours than he had in his entire life about the roots of climate change…”
“Just a few weeks ago hundreds of young people went to the State House and we flooded it with our protests and our songs and our cheers to demand that the climate crisis be taken seriously and that Governor Raimondo uphold our demands,” said Rodriguez. “And now we’re coming back, even stronger!”
The march from Burnside Park to the National Grid Energy Innovation Hub.
“The Energy Innovation Hub is an embarrassing and perfect example of corporate green washing,” said Duff. “When a company pretends to be environmentally friendly to distract consumers from the real impact of the way they do business…”
“First of all, almost 70 percent of our energy in Rhode Island was brought to us by dirty fossil fuels – over seven percent coal, the dirtiest of them all,” said Climate activist Nicole DiPaolo. “This energy comes to us through pipelines and power plants that are compromising people’s health and destroying precious ecosystems. This dirty energy is the reason why scientists say we are in the sixth mass extinction as over one million species of plants and animals are dangerously threatened.
“This is all while National Grid has the option for clean, renewable energy. But they are compromising our present and our future well being by continuing to choose dirty coal, gas, and oil. When National Grid does choose clean energy, they expect tens of millions of dollars from ratepayers who already struggle to pay some of the highest utility bills in the country.
“These ridiculously high prices cost some more than others. People who can’t afford their utility bills are facing shut offs in the dead of winter. Some of these people suffer from health conditions that require machines that they can’t run when their power goes off. The cost for some is their lives. The cost for some is their children, who can be taken away if they cannot afford to keep the lights on. All of this because National Grid charges unjust prices for heat and electric which are basic necessities in 2019.
“All of this while the top paid executive at national grid makes $2,586 per day!” continued DiPaolo. “And that is without benefits. If you include benefits, pension, and stock shares in the company, that same executive makes a heaping $15,596 per day. Per day! So many of us are working full time and fight for a livable planet on the side while National grid executives are making thousands of dollars every day to destroy it…”
The march then continued to parallel I-95, where students could observe the banner erected for passing motorists.
The arrival at the State House was celebrated with cheers and dancing. Then the protesters broke for lunch.
“We know who our enemies are,” said Puebla. “We know who we have to go after. The first are the fossil fuel billionaires. Boo! They are the most responsible for what’s happening, for this crisis…
“And secondly, we have our politicians. That’s a big ‘Boo.’ Because you know what? Some of them refuse to take bold action like we need. They aren’t addressing it enough. And even the ones that do admit that we are in a time of crisis, they are still complicit, and they are still accepting money from the fossil fuel billionaires. Boo!
“You know what? We have one of those politicians in our very own State House. Her name is Governor Raimondo… and she has taken so much money, so many campaign contributions from these fossil fuel billionaires…”
“The President of the United States… is still in denial about the existence of climate change,” said Sonny. “Even on the Democrats side, it’s not that much better. The Democratic front runner, Joe Biden, promised to sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, but then immediately broke down on that promise. He attended a funraiser held by a fracking executive…”
“We keep asking but we know why [Governor Raimondo] has not signed on to the NEW Green Deal, and she’s made it very clear,” said Puebla. “one of her top reasons why is because she has accepted $500,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel billionaires…”
It was at this point that the banner dropped, showing Raimondo getting into he car, having left from the side entrance of the State House.
“When I hear that my own Governor hid health reports detailing the effects that fossil fuel facilities have on low-income people of color, I know that nothing has been done to prevent the crisis that is upon us,” said Sunrise member Ayanna Rowe, an 11th grader at Classical High School in Providence.
Puebla conducted a call and response, repeating the demands that Governor Raimondo:
- Sign the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, and
- Publicly commit herself to passing a Green New Deal for Rhode Island.
The last speaker was 16-year-old Sarah LeClair. LeClair has mastered the language of the apocalypse, echoing St John the Evangelist or Jack Kirby. She has also mastered the defiant rhetoric of the radical and the heroic call to action against impossible odds.
“To those of us gathered here and to our companions all across the the world, I have something to tell you,” said LeClair. “I have to tell you that we are the last best hope of Earth.
“But that is nothing to be afraid of. Because there is power in the ground beneath our feet. There is a passion that fuels the power of your voice. There is a flame of life where you sow passion, and there is life where we can see no hope.
“And to the politician and to the billionaire who say we should be in school, I have something to say to you: We are not your puppets.
“We will not take the lies you feed us and sit down quietly. You are cowards to think that we will give up on the truth. If we believed that things would sort themselves out, we wouldn’t be here. If we believed that one voice couldn’t spark a rebellion, we wouldn’t be here. If we believed that obedience was the engine of justice, we would not be here!”
National Grid Energy Innovation Hub:
Rhode Island State House:
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