As the bells of Century Tower rang their gothic midday chime, hundreds of students left their classrooms and flooded Turlington Plaza. Their attention was immediately diverted to the mournful crowd of protesters — their black outfits fitting with the tower’s melody.
“What do we want?” demonstration leaders asked. “Climate justice,” protesters yelled in response.
Last Friday, Sunrise Movement Gainesville, UF College Democrats, Youth Democratic Socialists of America, Climate Action Gator and Take Action Florida participated in a climate strike alongside other international organizations. Organizers urged protestors to wear black to show solidarity in mourning the Earth.
Around 30 protesters showed up in dark attire, but as students poured into Turlington, the crowd of people surrounding the speakers grew and became almost indistinguishable from those in a rush to get to their next class.
Several speakers demanded action including the immediate phase-out of fossil fuels, while others, like Aron Ali-McClory, UF Young Democratic Socialists of America chair, encouraged people to vote with the hopes of passing “a comprehensive and undiluted” Green New Deal. The progressive policy calls for drastic reductions in emissions and ensuring that clean air, water, and food are basic human rights, creating high paying jobs in the process.
Kariel Stuart, a 21-year-old sustainability studies senior stood on the brick and concrete tables, encouraging demonstrators to learn about the candidates who represent Gainesville. Her voice echoed over protesters as she told them to reject the inaction of policymakers and further extraction of fossil fuels.
“If you’re ignoring us, you’re ignoring the science that could save our reality,” Stuart said.
In 2019, Stuart’s home in the Bahamas was destroyed by Hurricane Dorian two weeks after she moved to Gainesville, she said. The Category 5 storm hovered over her island for 41 hours, damaging the local hospital and airport, and killing members of her community in the process.
Stuart participated in the strike to advocate for smaller nations and communities that lack the resources to rebuild and bounce back with the ease of larger countries, she said.
“It’s a matter to be passionate about,” Stuart said. “It angers me because I know what it feels like on a personal level, what the consequences of climate change can be.”
Some signs carried by the strike organizers read “Change 4 a Green Future” and “The question is not what will be our future but will we have a future.”
Three years ago, climate activist Greta Thunberg denounced world leaders for their disregard of climate science and expressed her frustration as the pleas for reform fell on deaf ears. Thunberg was 16 at the time.
And yet, there are still no meaningful adaptations in place to mitigate climate change in Florida, said Stephen Mulkey, environmental scientist and UF sustainability and climate change lecturer. Because of the state’s location, temperatures haven’t changed dramatically, he said but if global trends continue, he said melting ice caps threaten the viability of coastal cities like Miami.
“Investment in seawalls, pumps and raising roadways is maladaptation because it puts infrastructure and investment as an ongoing process even as the rate of real level rise is increasing,” Mulkey said.
For Mulkey, the restructuring of society is necessary. Living the excessive life that the “typical American” has grown accustomed to isn’t going to cut it, and neither will small incremental changes, he said.
He called for drastic change, in terms of energy use, the economy and especially interpersonal engagement. During his final remarks, Mulkey reminded the protestors that community is the key to hope.
The main goal of the strike was to raise awareness, said Ali-McClory. He spoke with the intention of showing passersby that climate justice is still a force at UF. For YDSA, eco-socialism and climate justice are efforts that will continue in the future, he said, but the specifics of the campaign are not clear.
On Sunday, YDSA tabled alongside Sunrise Movement Gainesville at a climate and reproductive justice event hosted by National Women’s Liberation at Curia on the Drag, a coffee shop located at 2029 NW 6th St.
Contact Fernando at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @fernfigue.
Fern is a junior journalism and sustainability studies major. He previously reported for the University and Metro desks. Now, he covers the environmental beat on the Enterprise desk. When he's not reporting, you can find him dancing to house music at Barcade or taking photos on his Olympus.