Activists demand bold action at Lansing climate strike

By: - September 20, 2019 6:21 pm

Climate strike at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

Updated, 2:43 p.m. 9/22/19 with comments from Sen. Peters’ office

“What do we want?”

“Green New Deal!”

“When do we want it?”


Several hundred people, led by students and young activists, congregated at the Lansing Capitol steps Friday afternoon to chant, march and demand bold action from government leaders on climate change.

The event organizers included representatives from youth-led groups Sunrise Lansing, Extinction Rebellion East Lansing and MSU (Michigan State University) Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA). 

More than 1,000 locally organized Climate Strike events were registered across the United States, according to the Climate Strike website, and more than 150 countries are participating.

Speakers from the groups rallied support for the Green New Deal, while criticizing U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) for his “inaction” on climate change. Sunrise Movement Lansing coordinator Lea Dyga called on Peters to either support legislation for bold change or to “step aside.”

“Inaction is not a stance,” Dyga yelled to the crowd.

Peters, who is up for reelection in 2020, has said that he supports some elements of the Green New Deal, but will not commit to backing the concept entirely. 

Climate strike at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

When U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) put up a resolution earlier this year, Peters and most Democrats voted “present,” rather than expressing support or opposition. Democrats dismissed the vote as a “stunt” and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), one of the Green New Deal’s biggest backers, supported the move.

Peters spokesman Nirmeen Fahmy said in that the senator “believes climate change poses a serious threat to Michigan, and he has been pushing for the Senate to take action to protect the Great Lakes and our Michigan way of life — and do so in a commonsense manner that benefits workers and their families as well as strengthens our economy and national security.”*

The event Friday kicked off a week of mobilizing against climate change, both nationally and worldwide, which will strategically coincide with the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City Monday.

The official list of demands from the U.S. Youth Climate Strike group includes:

  • A Green New Deal
  • Respect of indigenous land and sovereignty
  • Environmental justice
  • Protection and restoration of biodiversity
  • Implementation of sustainable agriculture

“Any politician who looks at these types of changes and says that they are too radical or unrealistic will and already does have blood on their hands,” said Lauren Pepper, a senior at MSU and YDSA member. “At this point, support for the Green New Deal is the bare minimum we should expect from our politicians.”

Climate strike at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

Pepper added that all climate change legislation should address how it disproportionately affects certain groups of people along class, racial and economic lines.

The temperature climbed to the mid-80s during the rally, but protesters were undeterred by the heat. Speakers led the crowd in call-and-response chants and songs before leading a march around the block and back.

Climate strike at the Michigan Capitol, Sept. 20, 2019 | Laina G. Stebbins

“We can only fix this problem if we come together as a massive grassroots movement that is inclusive,” said YDSA member Charlotte Nana.

Berelian Karimian, 15, came to the rally with a group of friends, including Maddie Schroeder, 20, and Margaux Lepine, 18. They all held homemade protest signs and stood together.

“I think it’s important to strike because we want to make our voices heard,” Karimian said.

“The earth is dying all around us, and there’s nobody … in America, at least, making major moves to solve that problem. So we need to reach out to our government so they really understand we’re serious,” Schroeder said.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins is a former Michigan Advance reporter. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service.