Where were you?: Thoughts from the climate strike

Rwick Sarkar

On Sept. 20, members of the College community joined with the First Congregational Church, local elementary, middle and high schoolers, and town residents as part of the global climate strike. Inspired by Swedish student-activist Greta Thunberg, and led by young people around the world, some 4 million people in over 163 countries took to the streets to demand climate action. While the Williams strike was a powerful event to take part in and had strong participation from younger students in the area as well as area residents, what was striking was the relatively small turnout from Williams students. 

This is not meant to berate students on campus, but rather ask the simple question: Where were you the afternoon of Friday, Sept. 20? What were you doing? I do not contest that Williams students are busy, be it with academic, work, athletic, artistic or other extracurricular commitments. But the very point of the climate strike is to leave your other commitments behind. To walk away from them. We send a message when we say some things are more important than practice, class, rehearsal, work, whatever it may be. The climate emergency we face demands nothing less. 

People ask: Do these strikes accomplish anything? How does me going to a rally do anything to address the climate crisis? Everything. I will not contend that the simple act of being there will solve the climate crisis. But these strikes have an important purpose. They serve as community building events that rally support for the causes most important to us. Going to a protest energizes you to take further action, and that is what is most important. It is easy to get riled up about an issue. Going to a strike can galvanize that anger and frustration into action. Most of all, showing up matters because there truly is strength in numbers. By occupying time and space, we demonstrate that we are fed up with the status quo and demand change. Showing up in large numbers on campus sends a message to trustees and administration that we will not take no for an answer on sustainable campus policy. Showing up in large numbers across the country and around the world forces our political leaders to finally take action on the climate crisis. 

Williams students can and must add real value to these sorts of strikes with our intelligence, capabilities and privilege. Students can bring the diverse perspectives that need to be brought to the table. It is hard to watch as second graders take to the microphones and are brought to tears for their love of the animal life which will be lost as the planet heats up. But we also need to hear from those whose homes will be lost, whose families will be caused to relocate. This truly is a climate emergency and we must first and foremost deal with the devastating human impacts it will have. 

I have no doubt that Williams students care about climate action. It is the defining issue of our generation. But, it is not enough just to support climate action on paper. We need to show up. It is akin to the difference between not being racist and being an anti-racist as Ibram X. Kendi’s new book contends. It is not difficult to make the active decision to break out of the self-isolating Purple Bubble and take part in a movement made up of young people from around the world. If we cannot devote 30 minutes of our Friday afternoons to fighting this fire, what chance do we stand?  

An important clarification I’d like to make is that I do not approach this from a point of pessimism. The climate crisis is an extremely frightening issue, but I cannot help but be hopeful as we are led by inspiring activists from Greta Thunberg in Sweden to 14-year old climate activist Ruby Lerman, a ninth grader at the Buxton School in Williamstown. Prior generations have failed us. Now, we must step up.  

Ask yourself: Where were you? 

Rwick Sarkar ’23 is from Winchester, Mass.