Concerns about the future of the planet led over 150 people in the Athens community to organize at Village Bakery Friday morning and then march and ride bikes Uptown to protest climate change.
The venue provided numerous informational tables run by activists and non-profits and featured other events, like plant giveaways, a flash-mob planting activity and a press conference where activists spoke about the need to take action both individually and through the government. This was the Athens version of a series of protests in cities around the world.
The Facebook event for the protest encouraged people to skip class or work and meet at Village Bakery to strike in solidarity with youth climate activists.
“We really didn’t know what it was going to be like, but this is beyond what I thought,” Bob O’Neil, co-owner of Village Bakery and co-organizer of the event with Christine Hughes, said. “It’s asking a lot to have people to walk out of school, skip their work and spend their time here today.”
Many of the themes of the speakers and activists who spoke and had booths at the protest focused on demanding action and emphasized the potentially cataclysmic effects of the average global temperature rising in the next decade.
Prior to the march at noon, which included a group bicycle ride through town and campus, nine different speakers spoke about climate change and its effects on the community.
Elle Dickerman, a junior studying environmental studies and geography and a member of the Ohio University Sierra Club, was one of the first speakers. Dickerson said her group’s main goal is to help students be aware of what's going on in the community and volunteer.
“We have the privilege of living in a temperate zone where we have yet to see the consequences of the climate emergency we find ourselves in,” Dickerson said. “We can’t ignore the science, evidence and drastic changes that are happening right now.”
Other speakers included John Howell, an associate professor emeritus of biomedical sciences; Ellie Hamrick, a Socialist running for Athens City Council; Michelle Greenfield from Third Sun Solar; Iris Cooke, an Athens Middle School student; and Marley McKind, a junior studying wildlife and conservation.
McKind said her generation is starting to feel “eco-anxiety” or “environmental depression,” which is ultimately leading many of the world’s youth to take action.
“We all need to take responsibility,” McKind said. “We only have one home, and she is crying out for our help.”
Other speakers, like Howell, took a different tone in their speech and blamed the climate change crisis on entities like banks, or in Hamrick’s case, “the ruling class” and capitalism as a whole.
“Capitalism is to blame for this ecological crisis, and capitalism cannot solve it,” Hamrick said. “Capitalism by definition puts profit over people and planet.”
Most of the speakers remained optimistic about people being able to make a difference.
The event began at 9 a.m. People began gathering at Village Bakery and were able to view the booths and informational tables and could participate in a potluck brunch, electric car rides, a plant giveaway and T-shirt printing at that time.
June Holley, an Athens resident, took the initiative to set up a table where people could vote on which issue that related to climate change mattered the most and should be addressed by the city, county and state government.
“I wanted to funnel people toward thinking about action. We have the most fabulous city council and county commissioners, and I’m trying to make them do more,” Holley said.
Installing solar panels on public buildings and on businesses, committing to net zero energy by 2030 and supporting local farmers were among the issues with the highest number of votes.
Holley said her plan was to take a photo of the poster that people voted on with stickers and then send it to Athens City Council, the Athens County commissioners and the state government.
“Young people are the ones who are going to really suffer,” Holley said. “I love this community, and if things start falling apart, I want us to be ready and resilient.”
One of the bigger events of the day included a “flash mob planting action” where participants trekked down to a secret location to learn how to plant properly. Factory Street Studio, a dance education studio, ended up being the location.
Some of the other non-profits and activist groups in attendance included ReThink Plastics, Rural Action and the Sunrise Movement.