ITHACA, N.Y. –– Students took to the streets Friday, both on East Hill and in downtown Ithaca to protest climate change as part of a global climate strike.

Protestors at Cornell University met for a rally at Ho Plaza and marched from there, blocking traffic on streets surrounding campus, and culminating their strike at Day Hall –– the location of Cornell’s President Martha Pollack’s office.

The demonstrators hope to push the university’s administration to divest from fossil fuels, as well as green the school’s infrastructure and commit to green building standards on future projects.

“We essentially gave an ultimatum to the administration…we’ve been asking kindly for long enough, giving you until National Fossil Fuel Divestment day which is in February, to commit to divesting,” said Nick Sutera, of Climate Justice Cornell, one the organizers of the strike. “If they commit to it then we’re happy…If they don’t then we will be taking more actions like this and disrupting business as usual.”

Cornell University Police kept a careful eye on protestors, some of which were able to make it into the building to deliver a list of demands to the administration.

CUPD put the building on lockdown, and most protestors were stopped from making it past the lobby.

Twelve students were able to make it to the third floor of Day Hall, where the president’s office is located. Their list of demands for the university are as follows:

  • Tell the Truth: Publicly acknowledge Cornell’s role in encouraging fossil fuel extraction, animal agriculture, and geopolitical conflicts created and exacerbated by climate change.
  • Act Now: Divest from fossil fuels, continue to decarbonize the University’s energy sources, and make veganism more accessible on campus.
  • Citizens Assembly: Actualizing a system of shared governance composed of those who are directly affected by Cornell’s decisions, with direct participation in University decision-making by students, faculty, non-academic staff, and local community members
  • Just Transition: All new infrastructure projects must be carbon neutral upon completion and meet the terms agreed upon in the Tompkins-Cortland Counties Building Trades Agreement.

Photo courtesy of Climate Justice Cornell

The students who participated in the occupation of Day Hall say they were prevented from using water fountains or bathrooms as part of the lockdown. The occupation lasted upwards of four hours before protestors said they left.

Sutera said that the strike on Friday was also aimed at including more campus organizations, making the movement more widespread.

“We had help from the Young Democratic Socialists of America, Cornell Vegan Society, Extinction Rebellion Cornell who are close with the Ithaca Extinction Rebellion group, as well as we had help from the Eco umbrella group on campus which a lot of environmental organizations are under it and they helped us with funding for food and such,” Sutera said. “We tried to make this more of a coalition and I think it worked. Hopefully, it will continue.”

A meeting is scheduled between Climate Justice Cornell and President Pollack for January.

Down the hill, students from the Lehman Alternative Community School and New Roots Charter school left their classes to lead their own strike outside of City Hall. Protestors, some as young as seventh grade, held hand-painted signs and chanted.

They had a list of demands for the United Nations, as the strike coincides with the UN’s annual climate conference. Their demands included “environmental justice, implementation of sustainable agriculture, a green new deal, protection and restoration of biodiversity and respect of indigenous land and sovereignty.”

Around 70 students were present, and joining in as a part of the wider Sunrise Movement in Ithaca.

LACS student’s alternative curriculum includes extended time for “Projects” on Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings.

According to their website, “students choose from academic projects (bio lab, math help, senior seminar), physical projects (hiking, tap dance), hands-on projects (silk-screening, photo lab) and time for community service or career explorations.”

A teacher at LACS started a Sunrise Movement hub as an option for students to fulfill their project requirements.

Franny Lux, a senior at LACS was one of the students that took on the Sunrise Movement work as her project and helped organize the event.

“We worked in the last three days to pull this together. There were a bunch of lunch meetings and outreach trying to pull this together in a short amount of time. And spreading the word at school –– we had a “teach-in” before we left school where we shared a video on the Green New Deal and talked about why this walkout is important during the time that it’s happening,” Lux said. “My concern is for what the future will look like for my generation and for future generations, and I think that’s what’s driving for a lot of us. Places are vanishing, people are suffering and animal species are going extinct…there’s so many pieces of it that are very alarming.”

The other student organizers for the LACS Sunrise strike were middle schoolers Savannah Loiacono, Violet Laux, Connor Logue and Tilden Smith. They shared why the climate strike was important to them.

Savannah Loiacono, Violet Laux, Connor Logue and Tilden Smith from left to right.

“I’m here because I want to have very many more generations and the way to do that is to stop climate change because there is no planet B,” said seventh grader Savannah Loiacono.

“I just want people to know how bad climate change is and get a president that will help,” said seventh grader Violet Laux.

“I really want to educate and empower about the Green New Deal and climate change. I love the world and I hope to be here for a long time, and I want other people to feel that,” said seventh grader Connor Logue.

“This stuff is really important to me. I’ve been working against climate change for a little while now and I joined this movement. Organizing this march was pretty great,” said eighth grader Tilden Smith.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com