Hundreds demand action at Southwest Virginia Climate Strike

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Shawn Nowlin shawn.nowin@ourvalley.org

More than 200 people gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Roanoke on September 20 to join in on the global fight for environmental justice and call on the UN Climate Action Summit for solutions to climate change, unsustainable energy sources and other environmental atrocities.

Supporters of all ages showed up. Students could be seen holding up original signs, adults could be heard sharing their opinions on climate change and many seniors picketed up and down the street while waving at those who drove by. Ava Hession-Landman was one of several Roanoke College students who supported the cause. Kapri Banks, 13, clutched a sign that read “Sorry, I can’t tidy my room because I have to save the planet.”

“I came to this gathering because I wanted my voice to be heard,” Banks said. “I wished more people took a vested interest in climate change because it’s a big deal. I was the one who asked my parents if we could be here today.”

Said Hession-Landman, “Along with joining in on a collective fight for environmental change, the strike served as an opportunity for networking. Participants found resources for being more environmentally conscious. They also became aware of future events regarding environmental justice.”

Several individuals spoke at the demonstration: Virginia House Delegate Sam Rasoul, Roanoke Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, Councilmember Bill Bespitch, Unitarian Universalist Church Reverend Alex Richardson, CommUNITY ARTSreach organizer Bernadette BJ Brown, Social Teen Activism Alliance founder Tallulah Costa and Mountain Valley Pipeline activist Trish McLawhorn, just to name a few. Councilmember Djuna Osborne was scheduled to speak but was unable due to being under the weather.

“We want to call attention to the dire situation the world is in. We have just 12 years to curb carbon emissions or face environmental disaster at a scale humanity has never known,” Celeste Delgado-Librero, Virginia Tech Spanish Instructor and founder of Sustainable Roanoke, said. “The change we need will require everyone’s participation, and for that, everyone needs to be aware of the problems. No one should continue to think that business as usual is an acceptable attitude. We are in a global emergency.”

Bob Egbert, President of the Board of Directors of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Roanoke, also explained to protestors why it is important for everyone to do their part. “The people of the Roanoke Valley might think that climate change is something remote in time or distance. Many think that it’s something they don’t need to be concerned about. We want to change that and give people options for action,” he said.

Preparation for Friday’s demonstration included coordinating with speakers and participating organizations, scheduling and general logistics. A permit from the city did not need to be served because of the church’s location. The Southwest Virginia Climate Strike was just one of over 2,500 similar demonstrations that occurred last weekend in approximately 160 countries across the world.

The message that Roanoke County resident Jessica Smith wanted to make at the strike was community solidarity. As she was leaving, Smith, along with her friends and family, called the turnout “amazing” and a “really powerful day.”