Embracing Your Climate Organizing Community

Photo: Heather Chen

On September 17th, alongside over 75,000 activists, I marched down the streets of Manhattan in New York City demanding an end to the fossil fuel era. 70 of these activists were college climate and financial justice organizers I had just met the day before. In unison, we raised our voices, danced, and embraced the power of our collective strength.

Before we embarked on this monumental march through the heart of New York City, Fossil Free Research, an international coalition of student organizers dedicated to dismantling the fossil fuel industry’s grip on higher education, hosted a pre-march panel and community hour. During this hour, we shared our victories and setbacks, drawing parallels and absorbing lessons from campus climate movements across the world.

At times, the university-based approach to organizing can feel isolating, with its political structure far detached from public governance. However, the creation of a tight-knit campus community and the essential need to reach out and connect with neighboring communities shatter this isolating mold.

Photo: Heather Chen

I had the pleasure of reuniting with John Paul Mejia, whom I know as JP, a national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement and one of my most cherished role models from my hometown of Miami, Florida. When I entered the climate movement at the age of 15, JP provided me with hope and fortitude through his friendship and kindness. He empowered me to own my narrative and validated my frustration with the apathy of our political leaders. Now, as fellow campus organizers, the warmth that envelops me when we reunite is indescribable. JP taught me that young people have every right to be frustrated; we can demand accountability while staying true to our youthful personalities. To me, he illustrates the power of community and support.

I also was able to reconnect with Alicia Colmer, a dear friend of mine who leads Sunrise NYU and recently achieved success in their divestment campaign. Our initial encounter occurred at a climate gathering in my hometown of Miami, Florida, and this time, I had the privilege of delving into her organizing world in New York.

It was heartwarming to witness the sense of community nurtured by NYU’s Sunrise Chapter, as I joined their group during the March to End Fossil Fuels. I learned about their “big, little” mentorship program where older organizers were matched with younger organizers in a true family structure. We gathered on the sidewalk near the end of the march, sharing pizza, stories, and laughter. It was a moment of pure joy.

Photo: Heather Chen

As we strolled through the streets of Manhattan, united in our chant of “I believe that we will win,” a palpable sense of youthful determination and hope filled the air. We demanded the declaration of a climate emergency and underscored the urgent need to address this crisis. Frustration, heartache, and genuine concern did not dampen our spirits; they only fueled our resolve.

Climate change is not an abstract concept but an intrinsic part of our identities. Each time I read a headline containing the words “climate change,” I am transported back to my childhood park, walking through knee-high floods, or sipping cafe con leche at the Cuban bakery I visited after school almost daily. I am reminded of the richness of the diasporic community in Miami, a treasure we cannot afford to lose. Expanding on the deeply personal nature of this work, it’s impossible to separate it from our connection to the land and its people. Protecting the future necessitates cherishing the present.

It’s crucial to find moments of laughter and celebration amid the weight of this work. By nurturing companionship and support, we prevent those in power from stealing our individuality and extinguishing our hope. Together, we march forward, fueled by the collective power of our voices and the unwavering belief that we will triumph in the fight to end the fossil fuel era.

RCC Fellow – Gianna Hutton González

Gianna Hutton González is a sophomore and Posse Miami Scholar at Pomona College where she studies Public Policy Analysis concentrating in Environmental Analysis. On campus, she works for the Sustainability Office and co-leads Pomona’s divestment campaign. Gianna is working with RCC to amplify Pomona’s divestment and disclosure campaign and developing a variety of language resources to appeal to students and trustees propelling the campaign.