Florida Students Gather to Push for Climate Change Legislation

On February 19th, two days after the largest climate rally in history took place in Washington, D.C., guest blogger Victoria Griener and a large group of her fellow students led a local protest at the University of South Florida to keep up the momentum. The protest was in conjunction with the National Climate Assessment town hall being held at their school, in which NWF was heavily involved. This is Victoria’s report — a version of which was published on WeArePowerShift.org — surrounding the actions of that day:

On the 19th of February, the Student Environmental Association (SEA) led an on campus march at the University of South Florida (USF) to rally for environmentally friendly legislative change. Protesters united and called for the enactment of laws that were both relevant to climate change and consistent on addressing the issue. Students brought positive energy, large signs, and loud voices in order to get this point across, chanting “No coal / No oil / We don’t want our world to boil!,” and “Hey hey / ho ho / Keystone Pipeline’s got to go!,” as well as my personal favorite: “Hey, Obama! We don’t want no climate drama!”

Southern Energy Network’s Florida Organizer, Jacquie Ayala, speaks to the media at students press conference
We began with a small press conference outside a major student hub on campus, telling fellow students and news organizations our goals for the protest and the environment as a whole. Everyone then marched across campus to Marco Rubio’s office, where we were hoping to give a letter to the Senator’s staff that detailed our needs and desires for environmental legislative support for Obama.

As the protesters and cameras crammed into the hallway outside his office, a representative invited us in and offered to meet with us. A dozen student activists poured into the cramped meeting room as we delivered the letter and made our case. Kendall Donahue spoke on behalf of the protesters, telling the representative that Rubio’s constituents were calling for environmental legislative support for President Obama. She asked that Rubio come forth and openly declare climate change as a real and detrimental problem, as well as support Congressional legislative change to help resolve this serious concern.

Student protesters march to Sen. Marco Rubio’s office
The staff member, although very welcoming and polite to our protesters, promised to pass on the request to Rubio but did not seem supportive of our cause in the slightest. He stated that climate change was something some “believed in,” but that others did not. The staffer also tried to push the problem onto India and China, saying that they were just as guilty in assaulting the environment but doing nothing about promoting climate policy. At this point in the meeting, Donahue and fellow activist Shaza Hussein stated that the United States, as a world leader, needs to set forth an example and take the initiative of making this a global concern. Even Sierra Club representative Phil Compton jumped in, pointing out that sea level rise, the consequence of climate change perhaps most feared in Florida, would actually destroy most of Rubio’s home counties. Overall, the USF protesters communicated the need for environmental legislative support quiet well, defending the validity and threats of climate change for our state. The meeting concluded with a sense of accomplishment and polite handshakes, allowing for the rest of the march to continue.

From here, protesters marched to the Patel Center, where the National Climate Assessment Town Hall Meeting was taking place. We concluded the march with a few final chants outside the building, as well as a discussion amongst the students about future opportunities of activism. Our successful march and rally that day is just one component of making sure our voices are heard. Many more demonstrations will have to occur for positive change, but we are all for putting that effort out there. We are students. We are activists. We care about our environmental legacy. And that, my friends, is what democracy looks like.

Victoria Griener is a junior at the University of South Florida studying Anthropology and Environmental Policy. She is a tour guide at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, where she educates people about nature conservation in relation to biodiversity loss, and is a member of the school’s  Student Environmental Association (SEA). She hopes to specifically go into the fields of primatology and primate conservation, but the entire field of wildlife protection fascinates her. Victoria has a personal nature photoblog at sunshineraeee.tumblr.comSee more coverage of the student protest in Creative Loafing