“To change everything, it takes everyone”: Stories from New Haven’s “Rise Up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” Rally

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After a rainy week in New Haven, showers held off for a grassroots climate rally that took place at the New Haven Green on September 9th. Nearly a dozen activists from various organizations across Connecticut spoke to invigorate the crowd before kicking off the march around New Haven. The stage was framed by visuals such as black “CO2” balloons looming ominously over the corner of the stage and a giant thermometer that depicted the target increase in global temperature versus the “business as usual” projected output. Common Ground High School students played out the battle between a fossil fuel dragon and renewable energy sources between talks by activists throughout the event. Activists demanded that people across all levels of government commit to a renewables-based economy in order to promote environmental justice, social justice, racial justice, and sustainable growth.

The rally,  formally advertised as “Rise Up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice!”, was orchestrated by the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club, 350 Connecticut, and the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda. The weekend was pinpointed by the Peoples Climate Movement and 350.org since it preceded San Francisco’s Global Climate Action Summit held later in the week (September 12-14). Thousands of events similar to New Haven’s rally were organized across the globe to generate attention before the Summit, which brought together leaders including California Governor Jerry Brown, Former US Secretary of State John Kerry, Yale Associate Vice President for Strategy and Analytics Tim Pavlis, and Yale Carbon Charge Director Casey Pickett.

Speakers at the New Haven event offered diverse backgrounds and represented a variety of organizations across Connecticut. Though Connecticut doesn’t typically top the list of locations most affected by climate change, John Harrity reminded the crowd that “this year, we have had six tornadoeswhen was the last time we had six tornadoes in one year? Never!” Harrity (retired president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists, chair of Connecticut Roundtable on Climate & Jobs, and co-founder of the Connecticut Hydrogen-Fuel Cell Coalition) deconstructed the misconception that climate change is a problem for the distant future, a mindset that often contributes to lethargy rather than direct environmental action. Prompt action on this issue that affects fundamental principles of living is precisely what Leticia Colon de Mejias called for as well. Though she founded and serves as CEO of Energy Efficiencies Solutions and president of Green Eco Warriors, Mejias spoke at the rally as a mother, sister, daughter, “and above all…an air breather. So are all [of] our legislators and even our president,” she reminded the crowd. In response to critiques that sustainable development is not economically feasible, Mejias, who owns more than five businesses in Connecticut, plainly stated that though money is important to her, “she still breathes air. And [she] can’t eat money, and [she] can’t drink money, and [she] can’t breathe money.”

Beyond pushing legislators to develop a sustainable economy with a proliferating green jobs sector, the rally called citizens themselves to action. With elections coming up, speakers pushed for sustainably-informed voters to show up at the polls. Harrity reminded people that they have the opportunity to “reject any candidate that does not have strong, aggressive plans to reduce carbon and fight climate change.” He encouraged people to become informed about constitutional questions that might pop up on the ballots, such as the Connecticut Transportation Lockbox Revenue Amendment (which would secure funding for more green transportation in the state). Mejias recommended holding legislators responsible now “through votes, pledges, and action.”

The rally also shed light on opportunities for members of the Yale community to get involved with climate action, especially in the context of Connecticut’s environmental scene. Thomas Easley, Assistant Dean of Community and Inclusion at the Yale School of Forestry, spoke about his hope to tap into not only the power of the Yale community but also that of New Haven and Connecticut at large. He emphasized the importance of listening to each other at a community level and embracing the interconnectedness of climate justice, racial justice, jobs, gender equity, and pay equity. The Yale Student Environmental Coalition also attended and held posters stating “To Change Everything, We Need Everyone” and “We Resist, We Build, We RISE.” The group has great hopes to increase environmental awareness and action at Yale this year. Students are generally conscious of climate change but are not necessarily as responsive to it compared to other issues. Attending the “Rise Up for Climate, Jobs, and Justice” rally was an important step in bringing together students, the New Haven community, and environmental action.