The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Sustainability Spotlight: Walk Out for Climate

students gathered for the campus climate walk-out on 9/20/2019

“The world is changing, and we must change with it.” 

On Friday, September 20th, hundreds of UMass students, faculty, and local community members—as well as representatives from international climate justice coalitions—gathered on the East Campus lawn at noon to stand in solidarity with the walk-outs, rallies, and marches being staged around the world this week.

These movements are aimed at garnering attention, support, and action during the week-long Global Climate Strike that began on the 20th. Millions of individuals have joined in, and as leaders of the strike explained, “This week will be historic. In over 150 countries, people are stepping up to support young climate strikers and demand an end to the age of fossil fuels. The climate crisis won’t wait, so neither will we.” 

Two organizations, Extinction Rebellion and the UMass Amherst chapter of the Sunrise Movement were the organizational drivers of the campus walk-out, and the event was attended by over twenty other activist groups, including the Center for Education, Policy, and Advocacy, Climate Action Now, Prison Abolition Collective, Western Mass Science for the People, and UMass Amherst Climateers. 

One of the many faces of this movement is 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has gone on a school strike to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament every Friday since the summer of 2018 in support of the cause. Last Friday, Thunberg joined thousands of students and supporters of the movement during the New York City walk-outs. She also addressed the United Nations with an emotionally-charged speech about the urgency of the climate crisis and the sickening inaction of world leaders on the subject. “People are dying; entire ecosystems are collapsing,” Thunberg declared. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” 

Thunberg is not alone as a young leader of the climate justice movement; among those on the front lines are 16-year-old Isra Hirsi of Minneapolis, Minn., and 13-year-old Autumn Peltier of the Wikwemikong First Nation, and they have been working tirelessly to advocate for policy change and action surrounding environmental issues. Hirsi is the co-founder of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, and Peltier is the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation and has been advocating for the protection of water resources by addressing world leaders from the U.N. and other organizations. 

Countless others are leading the way in reversing the climate inaction that plagues our political and economic systems, some of whom are students at UMass, surrounding universities, and members of the local community. During the September 20th climate walk-out on campus, leaders and activists addressed the UMass crowd with speeches, songs, and chants that sent a surge of excitement, frustration, and anticipation throughout the group. 

Despite the fact that Friday’s walk-out was attended by only a small fraction of the campus, John McCarthy, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, endorsed the movement and encouraged faculty to support their students in joining it. This is a significant step in moving toward a more engaged campus, as it sets a precedent for the University as a whole in supporting climate activism and environmental justice. 

State Senator Jo Comerford and State Representative Mindy Domb came to UMass from Beacon Hill to show their support for the event and to encourage students to continue advocating for change. “People power is what moves government. You are the magic we need,” said Comerford. 

Thank you to everyone who organized, attended, and supported the walk-out; it is only with continued collective action and political pressure that we can achieve the change that is so absolutely critical to our future.