Hundreds of students and community members joined together Friday afternoon to demand changes in Texas A&M University’s environmental policies at the Aggies for Climate Justice climate strike.
The protest is part of the Global Climate Strike — a massive, youth-led movement aimed to attract the attention of world leaders and purposefully scheduled three days before the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Texas A&M protesters demanded four changes from university’s leaders — decarbonize campus by 2025, divest from fossil fuels, transition Utilities and Energy Services workers and do not increase tuition to support the demands.
The event was a collaborative effort between the new organization Aggies for Climate Justice, Council of Minority Student Affairs, Feminists for Reproductive Equity and Education and Young Dems BCS. Aggies for Climate Justice president Jacob Slaughter said he and fellow organizers drew inspiration from teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who heavily promoted the Global Climate Strike and led one in New York City on Friday.
At the protest, Slaughter spoke to the crowd about his displeasure with the amount of fossil fuels the university uses, and A&M’s ties to that industry.
“How can we call ourselves a green university when our portfolio and our salaries are covered in oil?” the bioenvironmental sciences senior said.
In his opening speech, Slaughter said attendees are united by the science that supports climate change. Additionally, he said a capitalist system contributes to climate change and called for a government that “works for people, not profit.”
Five people spoke in Rudder Plaza when the event started, then the group marched to Academic Plaza before returning back to Rudder Plaza to conclude the strike.
Janet Dudding, who is running for Texas House of Representatives District 14, was one of the speakers. Dudding encouraged A&M students to vote for people who will work to protect the environment.
“It’s not too late,” Dudding said. “We still have time, but we have to elect people who will do what we need them to do. There are about 70,000 students here. Y’all have an amazing voting block here. Y’all have power.”
Climate change affects multiple areas of people’s lives, Avery Dalfrey, who is vice president of FREE, said. Dalfrey spoke against capitalism and patriarchy in her speech before giving accounts of other schools that successfully divested.
“Climate change is not an isolated issue, and how people are affected by climate change is also very intersectional,” the political science senior said.
People are living through the environmental consequences of climate change, President of Young Dems Stephanie Koithan said. In her speech, Koithan expressed concern about A&M receiving large donations from the Charles Koch Foundation, which she criticized for environmentally harmful actions.
“The earth is round, climate change is real, humans are the cause and humans are the solution,” Koithan said.
Veterinary integrative biosciences professor Vaishali Katju attended the strike with students from her lab. She said her ecology background gives her a special interest in the planet’s wellbeing.
“I’m concerned for the planet and all the living systems that are at risk; not just the societal impacts but also the robust ecosystems that are being threatened by lost species,” Katju said.
While he saw more people at the protest than he expected, computer science freshman Elijah Feliciano said there are many who are not actively engaged in trying to help the environment.
“If we don’t address climate change, we’re all going to die,” Feliciano said. “It’s a global movement and it shows politicians that we care about this issue.”
During the last 15 minutes of the protest, political science junior Michael McKnight and two other students watched the protesters in Rudder Plaza.
“This isn’t Austin or D.C. where there are politicians,” McKnight said. “It’s just a college campus. I don’t think anyone is going to notice if they’re protesting here, but I think it’s really good that they’re exercising their First Amendment rights because that’s important.”
The Rev. Donna Renfro from the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Brazos Valley pushed Ann-Marie Kennedy in her wheelchair during the march. When Renfro spoke briefly in Academic Plaza, she said climate change is a religious and political issue.
“One of our religion’s founding principles is to protect the environment and care for the Earth,” Renfro said. “What this campus is doing is not good for the Earth. … I just hope it’s not too late.”
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