Student-Led Climate Strike Planned For U of I Campus

September 19, 2019
 
college students holding environmental protest signs march on the campus quad

Members of the University of Illinois Students for Environmental Concerns group march on the U of I campus.

Photo courtesy of Abbi Pstrzroch

Students across the globe plan to walk out of class on Friday to draw attention to climate change. On the University of Illinois Urbana’ campus, hundreds of high school and college students will converge on the campus quad. 

Abbi Pstrzroch, a senior at the U of I, is the president of the campus’ Students for Environmental Concerns — the student group behind the U of I demonstration. She said students from the University Laboratory High School on the Urbana campus also helped organize the event.

Pstrzroch said the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico nearly a decade ago inspired her interest in environmental activism. 

“I kind of figured out the polar bears aren’t dying because I’m leaving the lights on at night… They’re dying because climate change is very systematic and it’s deeply rooted in greed and corruption,” Pstrzroch said.

Eco-anxiety is something that’s being recognized by psychiatrists. It’s something that’s affecting the younger population just due to the fact there’s a giant problem ahead of us.Abbi Pstrzroch, U of I senior and president of the campus' Students for Environmental Concerns group

She said she’s seen an increase in student involvement in environmental issues. Pstrzroch said young people are increasingly concerned about the planet’s future.

Eco-anxiety is something that’s being recognized by psychiatrists. It’s something that’s affecting the younger population just due to the fact there’s a giant problem ahead of us,” she said.

That anxiety, she said, is spurring students to take action. 

Adelina Avalos, a senior at Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, and Patricia Agnes, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, are two of the organizers behind the Youth Climate Strike in Chicago, also occurring on Friday.

Avalos said her interest in activism is rooted in her experience growing up on Chicago’s southeast side.

“We have pet coke in our neighborhood,” she said. “The factories are right across from homes… that drove me into the environmental justice aspect.”

Agnes said her interest in climate activism was inspired by the documentary featuring Al Gore, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and the film adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” 

“I started being louder about my opinions and hopes for the future,” Agnes said.She said she plans to travel from Naperville with a group of students to attend the climate demonstration in Chicago. 

All three students said they’ve received mostly positive feedback from the adults in their lives. 

“The amount of support we are receiving from professors and mentors really outweighs all the people giving negative feedback about our march,” Pstrzroch said.

She said the message she’s broadcast to students is that their future and the health of the planet matters more in the long run than missing a day of classes.

Pstrzroch said the strikers have five overarching demands: “respect for indigenous lands, climate justice, sustainable agriculture, protection and restoration of biodiversity, as well as a Green New Deal mainly focusing on legislative with fossil fuels.”

“Gov. Pritzker has pushed this to the side, and we think it should be his number one priority. If not, at least up there on his priorities, when right now it’s not.Adelina Avalos, Whitney Young Magnet High School senior

In Illinois, she said they’re specifically calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state lawmakers to pass a bill that would increase the state’s use of renewable energy and promote jobs in the renewable energy sector. 

Avalos said the young activists in Chicago are asking for the same. 

“We’re demanding a Clean Energy Jobs Act,” Avalos said. “Gov. Pritzker has pushed this to the side, and we think it should be his number one priority. If not, at least up there on his priorities, when right now it’s not.”

Agnes said she understands lawmakers resistance to passing such measures because the goals are ambitious. 

“But the thing is our climate change crisis is very urgent and we need these guidelines like the ones that are included in the Clean Energy Jobs Act and the Green New Deal,” she said.

Avalos said strikers in Chicago will be asked to Tweet, email and call the governor’s office with their demands.

Pstrzroch said the engagement and energy around climate change activism gives her hope. 

“Knowing that there are so many people organizing and mobilizing and particularly on this day is really encouraging and it really takes some of that anxiety away,” she said.

Pstrzroch, Agnes and Avalos made their comments on Illinois Public Media’s statewide daily talk show, The 21st.

Follow Lee Gaines on Twitter: @LeeVGaines

Story source: WILL