ITHACA, N.Y.—In 2019, Ithaca passed its Green New Deal, a promise to put the city on track to be carbon neutral by 2030 — but progress has been slow as the deal’s implementation continues. Local activists and community members gathered June 16 at the Bernie Milton Pavillion to declare a climate emergency and rally for quicker action and overall change. 

The rally was organized by members of Sunrise Ithaca, Ithaca Tenants Union (ITU), Ithaca’s chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and Zero Waste Ithaca. The gathering was led by a cohort of speakers, including Progressive political candidates, members of each activism group, and members of the Cayuga nation, all of whom focused on the impacts of climate injustice. As attendees gathered around the stage, organizers handed out fliers stating what they hope to achieve with the rally, including goals like 24/7 carbon-free energy, community participation and no rent increases.

A doctor pulls an inflatable Earth, which is in a hospital bed.

The first speaker was local activist Magnolia Mead. She began her speech by highlighting the intersections between climate justice and other forms of justice, a primary theme throughout the rally. 

“We need community input to be central to the implementation of the Green New Deal,” Mead said. “We know that our Black and Brown communities have historically experienced higher amounts of pollution due to environmental racism and we need to center their voices in this struggle.”

Sunrise Ithaca organizer Siobhan Hull led the group in a march to City Hall, where they planned to protest outside during the night’s Planning and Economic Development Committee’s in-person meeting. However, the meeting was made virtual after New York’s state of emergency protections were extended.

Protesters march past City Hall.

Organizers of the rally also led activities for the group. Before the march, everyone in attendance wrote why they believe in the fight for climate justice on cards to be given to Ithaca City Officials. 

Among the speakers at the gathering was Russell Rickford, a Cornell professor and local activist with DSA. 

“If we’re serious about this, we have to embrace a radical vision,” Rickford said. “What that means is that we can’t accept green capitalism, and we can’t accept a vision of the Green New Deal that is really just capitalism light. We’ve got to be very clear what the enemy is, and we have to name the enemy, and the enemy is capitalism.”

Closing out the rally was progressive candidate for the Fourth Ward seat on Common Council, Tiffany Kumar. Kumar stressed the importance of rallies like this and the collective organization of Ithaca community members. 

“Ithaca may not solve global climate change, but it can serve as an example of what will,” Kumar said. “The only thing that can challenge an existential, anxiety-inducing threat like climate change, that seeks to rob us of all hope, is to find hope in each other. The answer to climate change is and always has been local, collective action.”