The Largest Organized Global Protest in History
Updated: Oct 6, 2019
by: Barbara Peterson - October 2019
New Hampshire citizens can be proud of the work they do in addressing the climate crisis. The global Climate Action week of September 20-28 was a series of mass demonstrations and a variety of other nonviolent actions that sent a strong message to world leaders and corporate giants that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Our planet is literally dying, and despite the claims by climate deniers and those who refuse to see the emergency of our situation, scientists agree that we have no time to waste, that if we don’t reduce our carbon emissions by at least half in the next 10 years while also instituting carbon capture technology to take out hundreds of billions of tons of carbon already in our air, we will suffer untold harms and dangers from an unfolding series of disasters that we will be unable to control. This is not hyperbole; it is based on evidence from the best scientific information and models available. Calling our current environmental situation a “crisis” is not some political conspiracy theory or extremist rant from mindless alarmists. It’s a verifiable fact.
In no time in Earth’s history has more than half the planet experienced extreme shifts in temperature at any one time, and yet that is the trend we are seeing now. Put simply, when carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into our atmosphere, it remains there for a very long time, trapping the heat of the sun. So, heat is coming into our atmosphere, but it cannot escape due to the CO2 that acts as a barrier. The increased heat warms our oceans, which causes more intense hurricanes, flooding, droughts, and wildfires. This leads to the destruction of our planet’s major life-sustaining features such as the rain forests, coral reefs, lakes and rivers, and fertile farm lands. We will suffer from a decreasing amount of land able to grow food, a lack of food filled with life-sustaining nutrients, and fewer geographical areas that can support housing. These more extreme storms and natural disasters also lead to drinkable water shortages and the spreading of certain diseases and health problems, such as heat stroke, respiratory issues, and other illnesses spread by tics and insects.
Carbon pollution from the fossil fuel industry is at an all-time high. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a nonpartisan group of scientists convened by the United Nations to provide international guidance on addressing global warming, we must keep the rise in global temperatures under 1.5° Celsius (or 34.7° Fahrenheit). Currently, we are at 1° C (33.8° F). Keeping the rise below 1.5° C will protect those parts of the earth that can sustain human civilization. Aaron Hall from Southern NH Democratic Socialists of America highlighted some of the major concerns of the climate crisis during Manchester’s Climate Strike rally.
“The wrong Amazon is burning! The wrong ICE is melting! ExxonMobil executives have known about the consequences of climate change since the 1970s and only accelerated its effects. Now, in our own back yard, a fracked gas pipeline is proposed to run through counties that will poison the water and the ecosystem. We know the root problem of this is an economic system that places the priorities of profit over people. Today we make these demands to our politicians:
· To decarbonize the economy fully by 2030
· To democratize control over the major energy systems and resources
· To center the working class in a just transition
· To de-commodify survival and ensure a basic outcome for every living person
· To reinvent our communities to serve people and planet, not profit
· To demilitarize, decolonize, and strive for a future of international solidarity and cooperation.
· To redistribute resources from the worst polluters.
I’m coming for your money, Bezos! There are many tools in the toolbox of change, and individual life changes fit in there, but let’s not forget that 90 companies are responsible for 70% of emissions. The US Army is the world’s largest polluter. Even if we all went vegan, drove electric cars, and banned plastic straws, the world would still burn.”
Bottom line: we are in crisis, and the time to act is now. It’s important to keep in mind that people who live in the margins of society are most at risk for suffering the worst impacts of climate change. Braxton Brewington from Manchester pointed out that “we’re running out of time … the truth is that low income communities, Black and brown communities, and indigenous communities have long been bearing the brunt of climate change and environmental injustices. We cannot fully address the climate crisis without climate justice.”
New Hampshire climate activists and advocates around the state work tirelessly every day to protect our natural environment for its own sake and for the health, wellbeing, and sustainability of human life. This profile article, however, does not have the space to even come close to covering the broad range of work being done in our state to support the environment. Organizations such as Land Trust groups, Conservation groups, 350nh, Sierra Club, Seacoast Anti-Pollution League, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, Seacoast Science Center, Blue Oceans Society, NH Sustainable Energy Association, NH Rivers Council, NH Lakes Association, NH Audubon, Nature Conservancy NH chapter, Jordan Institute, Harris Center for Conservation Education, New Hampshire Water Alliance, Environment New Hampshire, Echo Action, and much, much more have been dedicating their time and skills to protect the air, soil, and water we all need to survive. Their efforts and accomplishments often go unnoticed and unappreciated by most New Hampshire residents, yet each deserves their own profile to celebrate the work they do to make all our lives better.
Celebrated young climate activists, such as Autumn Peltier, Dyanna Jaye, Isra Hirsi, Yugratna Srivastava, Lina Yassen, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, and Greta Thunberg, just to name a few, have shown us that young people are ready, willing, and able to do what is required to save our planet. They know that their future is at stake if they don’t try to fix what their parents and older generations have broken. And in New Hampshire, the Youth Climate Strike illustrated that teens and young adults can come together with people of all ages to organize massive protest actions to turn the corner from making moderate changes that address the climate crisis to large, structural changes needed to avoid destroying our chance of inhabiting the earth.
Throughout the state on Friday, September 20th, thousands of people gathered in towns and cities to demand immediate and significant action to save our future. Rallies and marches took place in Portsmouth, Concord, Nashua, Keene, Manchester, Hopkinton, Milford, Plymouth, Durham, Bethlehem, Conway, and other New Hampshire communities. In Portsmouth, the New Hampshire Youth Climate Strike organized a rally that took place in Prescott Park where 500-700 people gathered to hear speakers, sign petitions, and form alliances that will help the climate movement grow. People carried signs with a range of slogans; some that were there stated, “Live fossil free or die,” “We are all in this together,” and “Protect water, climate, & communities.” When asked why she was at the rally, one attendee said, “We can’t ignore the young people. They are speaking out to protect their futures and the least we can do as adults is to help them in any way we can.” Another attendee said, “The time for talk is over. We need to act.” The speakers were dynamic, informative, and attendees showed their appreciation of the speakers with loud cheers and chants.
The Manchester Youth Climate Strike had over 300 in attendance, where they gathered at Veterans Park then marched to City Hall. The reasons for people attending were many, but Jennifer Dube, Pipeline Resistance Organizer with 350NH summed it up well: “Manchester is striking because the city does not need the Granite Bridge Pipeline transporting fracked methane gas along Lake Massabesic, threatening their water supply. With projects like that in the works, it is clear that New Hampshire is not on the path to 100% clean, safe, renewable energy.” Sofia Mendes, 16-year-old student from Manchester said, “We cannot wait to take action because what we do in the next decade will determine the future of our planet. Today we are showing these politicians that climate change is our top priority.”
Some attendees at the Manchester Strike spoke directly to government officials, demanding that they take action to stop the Granite Bridge Pipeline. Alissandra Rodriguez-Murray of Manchester, with RAD, thanked Manchester’s Mayor Joyce Craig for all the good she has done, but called on her to “support our city’s future and take a stand with us against the Granite Bridge Pipeline.” Stephanie Scherr called on “NH State Senators and our Governor to declare a climate emergency in New Hampshire and a moratorium on all fossil fuel expansion.” Katherine Leswing, Concord teacher and mother said, “We must elect politicians who prioritize clean energy and don’t veto it.” And Corinne Dodge from Derry with NH Voters Restoring Democracy expressed her anger at the lack of true representation from our elected officials when she said, “It just doesn’t matter what laws working-class citizens like myself want passed because our legislators are not listening to us! Instead they cater to the needs of billionaire and multinational corporate donors like the Fossil Fuel industry.” Lilly Tague-Bleau, student from Manchester, echoed Corinne’s sentiment when she stated, “The ground beneath us is eroding, the oceans are becoming more acidic, thousands are dying, forests are burning, glaciers are melting, and our leaders are concerned about golf scores and which bathrooms we are allowed to enter”.
From around the state, the Youth Climate Strikes gathered thousands to raise their voices in solidarity against our government putting corporate profits over the health and very lives of the people. The Climate Strike was the largest organized global action in the history of the world, and New Hampshire organizers and participants did themselves proud to show that we will not tolerate putting profit over people nor corporate greed over sustainable energy. As Ana Maria from Manchester said, “The Global Youth Climate Strike is a great example of the power of the people to come together and take action for a cause that we all believe in, the preservation of this planet.” She warns that while the Strike was impressively successful, “it alone will not stop climate change. We have to harness the energy we witnessed ... and create an ongoing movement against those who are actively profiting from destroying our planet and the lives of our people.”
The Youth Climate Strikes in New Hampshire occurred on the first week of global actions – student walk-outs, business closings, rallies, and marches – that culminated in New Hampshire with a direct action, #NoCoalNoGas, in Bow at the Merrimack Station, one of New England’s largest coal plants. Tactically organized by the Climate Disobedience Center (CDC), 350NH worked with a coalition of groups throughout New England to organize participation in this historic event: the largest direct action in New Hampshire since the work of the Clamshell Alliance in the 1970s. A large rally with singers and speakers gathered at a park near the Bow plant. In addition, dozens took on crucially important support roles for the nearly 70 people in Tyvek suits who were arrested for walking onto the plant in an effort to disrupt business as usual, a necessary part of instigating vital change to end our dependence on fossil fuel and save our planet.
Those who walked onto the plant were being watched by State Police in a helicopter and National Guard officers in a van. Protestors on the Bow plant were met on the ground by local police, State police in full riot gear, and officers from the Sheriff’s department. CDC and 350NH have made it clear that this action is just the beginning of a long campaign to shut down the coal plant and prevent the Granite Bridge project from going forth. The three objectives of the September 28th Bow action were to “build a sense of power and unity together, shift activists’ relationship to risk in a way that deepens our commitment, and bucket by bucket remove coal from the climate fires,” according to CDC organizer, Emma Schoenberg. The action was transformational for many who participated; “We became aware in our minds and our hearts that we are building a web of relationships where we practice taking care of each other and our earth to build the sort of interconnected and supportive society in which we all want to live,” said an attendee who was arrested for the cause.
The Youth Climate Strike week of action was in some ways a culmination of the life-long work New Hampshire organizations and groups have put into protecting our land and each other. In other ways, it is a beginning, a place to move forward from this new level of participation and momentum toward more deeply rooted and impactful actions. From environmental advocacy groups, to climate activists, to community rights-based ordinance organizers, as well as all individuals who participate in building a cleaner, safer, more humane and nature-friendly culture, we in New Hampshire have every reason to be proud of the work we have done, continue to do, and will keep on doing into the future to build a world that can sustain us all in equity, diversity, love, and moral courage.