The Global Climate Strike comes to Harrisonburg

Students at JMU make signs for Friday’s climate strike in Harrisonburg. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Green.

By Bridget Manley, publisher

This Friday, people around the world will be walking out of schools and work to take part in Global Climate Strikes, and Harrisonburg environmentalists will be holding their own Global Climate Strike at Court Square that afternoon. 

Activists both locally and internationally are hoping to send a message to world leaders taking part in an emergency United Nations climate summit in New York City on Sept. 23. They are asking that leaders “demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.

This movement, started by students who are increasingly worried about the earth they are going to inherit, is also connected to 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate change activist who has become famous for her remarks criticizing world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos. She blasted leaders for taking private jets to talk about climate change, and has since been meeting with climate activists around the world to start taking immediate action. 

The United Nations says that irreversible climate damage is less than 11 years away, and that has fueled the immediacy for Millennials and Generation Z to aggressively protest for renewable energy and a stop to climate change worldwide.  

Harrisonburg isn’t alone in the Valley – there will also be strikes in Staunton and Charlottesville on Friday.  In Harrisonburg, students will be walking out of classes at JMU, EMU and Harrisonburg High School at 11 a.m. and marching downtown to Court Square to demand that the city and its universities start taking their own steps to reduce their carbon footprints and stop climate change. 

Nidhi Vinod, Renew Rocktown’s coordinator, is working with students at JMU and EMU to organize Friday’s event. Renew Rocktown is a coalition of Harrisonburg organizations committed to climate action and environmental sustainability.  She says that this is one of two upcoming Friday strikes they are planning. This Friday they will focus on global change and local initiatives, and next Friday they plan to move to City Hall to ask local leaders to take specific steps in response to the requests they make this week.

“Our plan is that we are going to have this climate strike, which is going to be more focused towards an awakening call on the 20th, and then the 27th is going to be more specific towards Harrisonburg,” Vinod said. “So [we will be] outside City Hall, telling them that this is what the younger generation needs to see in the city.”

Some of the specific initiatives they want are for both universities to adopt renewable energy like solar and wind energy, add more community gardens, and reduce plastic use campus-wide. 

The event will host speakers talking about climate change, and musical experiences as well. 

Mitchell Green, an activist and senior geographic science major at JMU, has been organizing the Harrisonburg climate strike along with members of Renew Rocktown. He says that they will be asking the city to adopt the “25 by 25” initiative – to get 25 percent of energy from renewable resources like wind, solar, and biofuels by the year 2025.  

Green pointed out that while JMU has small solar panel and wind turbine projects, they are only used for educational purposes and not as a real source of renewable energy.

Green wants to see positive climate change for his future, the future of his children, and generations beyond.

“We feel that since we are born into the younger generation, that we are born into this world where the climate crisis is such a large issue,” Green said. “It is really up to us for our future to act now, immediately, to change the way we’ve done things in the past fifty, one hundred years.” 

The students and protestors also plan to ask the city for infrastructure improvements including bike lanes on city roads and water restoration projects that will help revitalize streams and rivers in the area. 

The community is invited to attend the Climate Action Strike by meeting the marching students at 12:30 p.m. on Court Square. 

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