by Shawn Nowlin
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. The protestors called 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 wish 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.”“Along with joining in a collective fight for environmental change,” said Said Hession-Landman, “the strike served as an opportunity for networking and participants became more environmentally conscious. They also became aware of future events regarding environmental justice.”
Several individuals spoke at the demonstration including Virginia House Delegate Sam Rasoul, Roanoke Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, City Council member Bill Bespitch, Unitarian Universalist Church pastor, the Rev. Alex Richardson, CommUNITY ARTSreach organizer Bernadette “BJ” Brown, Social Teen Activism Alliance founder Tallulah Costa and Mountain Valley Pipeline activist Trish McLawhorn, to name but a few. Scheduled speaker Councilmember Djuna Osborne was unable to attend.
“We want to call attention to the dire situation the world is in,” said Celeste Delgado-Librero, Virginia Tech Spanish Instructor and founder of “Sustainable Roanoke.”
“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,” she added.
Bob Egbert, president, Board of Directors, 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 added.
The Southwest Virginia Climate Strike was only one of over 2,500 similar demonstrations that occurred last weekend in approximately 160 countries throughout the world.
The message that Roanoke County resident Jessica Smith emphasized at the strike was community solidarity as she, along with friends and family, called the turnout “amazing” and a “really powerful day.”