It was a beautiful, sunny Friday in Syracuse, New York, and the climate strike was underway. By 11:30 a.m., there were swarms of students, professors, and journalists gathered on the Syracuse University quad to assemble for the march to Forman Park about a mile away. We marched, we yelled, we got honks from passing cars, some in support, and definitely some telling us to move out of their way.
Once we arrived at Forman Park, we “gave thanksgiving” to the land we were all standing on and recognized its deeply rooted connection with the people of the Haudenosaunee, Onondaga Nation.
Soon after, people from all walks of life took to the stage to affirm why we were there. From students to local politicians, everyone was energized by their speeches and words of encouragement.
Dana Balter, 2020 congressional hopeful, preached, “We are not the future, we are now, and we are going to make a change.”
She later announced her renewed pledge not to accept contributions from the fossil fuel industry in her campaign for New York's 24th Congressional District seat; a powerful political stance in efforts to move away from a society so heavily dependent on fossil fuels.
One week after the climate strike, I sat down with 19-year-old Tamia Parsons, a sophomore at Syracuse University and one of the leaders of the environmental movement in Central New York. Here's our conversation:
Q: How are you involved with the environmental movement here on campus?
A: I am one of the hub coordinators for the Sunrise Movement that organized the protest march.
Q: What is the Sunrise Movement about?
A: It's a national organization. It supports the Green New Deal and pushes politicians to sign a “no fossil fuel” pledge, so they don’t take fossil fuel money and (aims to) get fossil fuels out of politics because there is so much corruption. So here in Syracuse, we’re the central New York branch and we started this hub last march. Since there are politics associated with the Sunrise Movement, we’re not an official club on campus. The university did kinda threaten us and told us we couldn't do any action while on the quad. They said they would remove us.
Q: How has climate change affected your everyday life?
A: I'm from the San Francisco Bay Area and my town is usually foggy and 60 degrees 80% of the year; seeing that change is very real. We’re actually a huge pumpkin export, No. 1 in the U.S., a strange fact, but seeing all of the crops affected is alarming. I also have a little 10-year-old brother who is the love of my life and thinking about him not having a future, or people his age having to fight for a future, breaks my heart. The people before him didn't have to do that, why should he? Just because he was born during a different time.
Q: What specific policies or solutions do you want to emerge from this movement?
A: I feel so strongly about the “no fossil fuel” pledge. I think that getting elected officials at whatever level they're at onboard is powerful. We have Rachel May here, who signed it, Dana Balter signed it. We want bigger people to sign it, any presidential candidates. We want it to become political poison for candidates not to take the pledge.
Q: How did it feel to be at the strike?
A: I cried. There were so many damn people. We pushed it out on social media, hung up posters, we saw posters being taken down. To see over 500 people there at Forman Park, even older generations that are not associated with SUNY ESF or SU felt so amazing. They were all there ready to support us. It was energetic and I felt like that's where I was supposed to be.
Q: What is the Sunrise Movement’s next move?
A: We're trying to get everyone together in a meeting space to see what our next actions could be. Protest-esque things, and possibly do a “die-in.”
If you want to join Tamia, check out The Sunrise Movement and find a local hub near you. If you can’t find one, do what Tamia did, and create a new chapter in your own community.