Organizers demand Ithaca, N.Y., declare a climate emergency
Courtesy of Krisztina Ambrus

ITHACA, N.Y.—On Wednesday, June 15, local activists called on the city council here to declare a climate emergency, citing slow progress in the three years since the passage of the Ithaca Green New Deal. A rally was held at the Bernie Milton Pavilion to hear from local leaders before marching over to City Hall.

Speakers shared the urgent message that while governments stall, climate change is not waiting.

Those at the event emphasized that the stark realities for working-class people all over the world grow grimmer every day.

Siobhan Hall, of the group Sunrise Ithaca, noted, “The City of Ithaca needs to recognize that a promise means little without action. The Ithaca Green New Deal sets incredibly ambitious goals, and we must show a commitment to the bold and urgent action necessary to achieve such goals.”

The mood of the rally was not one of despair, however, despite the seriousness of the crisis. The crowd was energized as speaker after speaker made the case for why action is needed fast and emphasized that society can and must make huge progress in the next eight years.

At the core of their arguments was the important role of class struggle in the climate change issue. This foundational point was driven home time and again. Notable among them were the words of Donna Silversmith, a representative of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫʼ (Cayuga Nation), who revisited the destructiveness of colonialism responsible for uprooting her people during expansion by settler-colonial Europeans.

Speaker Russell Rickford connected climate change to the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Rickford noted that both cases of exploitation are a necessary means to an end from the point of view of global capitalism, which is predominantly a product of U.S. imperialism and military conquest.

Tiffany Kumar, candidate for Ward 4 Common Council, explained why it is so important to prioritize low-income and BIPOC communities in this process. Kumar’s perspective lends itself to a growing body of research that argues it will be working-class people who shoulder the brunt of the costs should a laissez-faire ‘Green Capitalist’ approach be used.

Related to this point, Katie Sims, who is running for Ithaca mayor, pointed out the need for tenant protections from unjust evictions through the “right to renew” from opportunistic landlords looking to pass the costs of green renovations along to their powerless tenants.

Courtesy of Krisztina Ambrus

Already declared in over 2,100 local governments in 39 countries, a climate emergency places renewed pressure on the government to take action against climate change.  For Ithaca, declaring a climate emergency could force the city to reaffirm its promise to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, and to prioritize equity and justice in the process.

Activists are using the declaration as an opportunity to incorporate additional demands, including a commitment to 24/7 carbon-free energy, community participation, and no rent increases in green buildings. They hope that Ithaca has a chance to be a model that communities around the globe can emulate. Yet organizers acknowledge that action is needed, and now is the time.

Todd Saddler of Extinction Rebellion Ithaca drove this point home by stating he wanted “this generation, who organized the climate strike today, to live out their lives on an Earth that is habitable for them and their children and all the other species who share this planet.” Saddler went on to note that “for that to happen, the city of Ithaca, and Tompkins County, and the state of New York, and the United States of America, and the United Nations all have to do four things:

  1. Tell the truth about the climate crisis;
  2. take action, starting now;
  3. be governed by participatory democracy;
  4. and practice environmental justice.”

The rally was supported by a wide range of local organizations, including Sunrise Ithaca, the Ithaca Tenants Union, the Ithaca Communist Party USA, and Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative. A similarly broad range of speakers was featured at the event, including members of the Learning Farm, Sunrise Ithaca, the Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America, the Ithaca Tenants Union, and more.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.