News

Climate Strike mobilizes in Grand Rapids; Aquinas turnout low

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Climate strikers in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy Mason Glanville.

Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, News Editor

Photo Courtesy Mason Glanville

The local arm of the global Climate Strike gathered in Grand Rapids at Rosa Parks Circle at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, September 20. A group numbering over 100 marched the surrounding streets for two hours, holding homemade signs and chanting. Marchers also stopped at Calder Plaza to make their demonstrations visible to the city officials who work there, including Junior Senator Gary Peters.

The workday carried on as usual in downtown Grand Rapids around the call-and-response chants repeated throughout the march: 

“What do we want?”

 “A Green New Deal!” 

“When do we want it?”

 “Now!” 

The demonstrators were loud, enthusiastic, and relatively young. The worldwide Climate Strike movement has been spearheaded by youth leaders, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg well known among them, and Grand Rapids was no exception.

The strike at Rosa Parks Circle was organized by the Michigan Climate Action Network. Another strike organized by the climate action group Sunrise Movement took place at Westown Commons park on the same date. The strikes began three days in advance of the annual United Nations Climate Week in New York City. 

Michigan Climate Action Network’s website describes the goal of the strikes in Grand Rapids and globally as “demand[ing] transformative action be taken to address the climate crisis…take the streets to demand a right to a future.” The Facebook event added, “These strikes have the potential to be the largest mass mobilization on climate in world history.”

The event specifically urged participants to strike from school and work to protest. Many, however, were not comfortable doing so and attended in the gaps between their responsibilities or not at all. Few Aquinas College students were present, largely for this reason.

Some of those willing to strike were not able to join in the demonstrations. Aquinas student Amy Cutlip arrived at the strike, but found that the activities were not accessible due to her disability; social media promotions had not communicated the fact that the Rosa Parks Circle event was strictly a march, unlike some protest events that feature speakers. Others with mobility issues, in particular the elderly, stayed home.

“The people who organize these things don’t often have disabilities or mobility impairment,” Cutlip said. “It’s not something people think about all the time, although those with disabilities are disproportionately affected by climate change.” Cutlip and others expressed disappointment that the events were not better advertised; several students interviewed for this article had no idea that a strike took place in Grand Rapids.

“The climate is changing, why aren’t we?” read one of the demonstrator’s signs, drawn on cardboard with a marker and held high. The events of September 20 show a change beginning, even if slowly. 

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