by Zulema Herrera
On Earth day, students rallied in front of the Illini Union to advocate for the heath of the environment and it’s impact on each individual. The strike was organized by the Students for Environmental Concerns(SECS) group in collaboration with other organizations and protesters.
The SECS is the largest and oldest environmental group at UIUC created to seek environmental justice through activist efforts. The Earth Day Climate strike was a part of their Earth week activities they host every year to celebrate and advocate for the environment. This year, speakers came from organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Red Bison, and the Society for Women Engineers(SWE). The president of SECS, Veronica Casey, says that their initial focus was to put pressure on the university and campus community.
“We have been trying to get the university to divest in fossil fuels and that’s been our central mission” said Casey, “and making that actionable change to make sure that someone, a group of students, have a place to go to fight for the environment.”
The university has recently began to make initiatives to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and reduce their energy use through their enactment of The Illinois Action Climate Plan(iCAP) and the Facility and Services Energy management plan. By these efforts, the university states their hope to create a more sustainable environment for the campus and students.
“From significant clean energy goals, to waste reduction, to education programs to divestment from fossil, to reimaging the architecture and landscape of campus, iCAP 2020 is a case study for high goals with high stakes at risk.” said Chancellor Jones during the iCAP launch.
However, for one protester these environmental issues is much bigger than the university. Karla Sanabria-Véaz, member of the Graduate Employees’ organization(GEO), voiced her concerns about the conditions of her birthplace, Puerto Rico. She says her involvement in student movements in Puerto Rico as a teenager to now joining the Earth Day Climate Strike instills a level of pride.
“Puerto Rico’s issues in Congress is discussed in the Committee of Natural Resources because that’s how this country sees us, as a natural resource to exploit” said Sanabria-Véaz, “In recent years, particularly after 2017, even before, we have seen how climate change has effected Puerto Rico as part of the Global south.”
Sanabria-Véaz refers to Hurricane Maria which devastated so many homes and lives in 2017; considered one of the worst natural disasters in record history in the islands of Puerto Rico. She also mentions the many earthquakes Puerto Rico experienced during the pandemic, stressing the severity of climate change and the need become of aware of it and take action. To learn more about the state of Puerto Rico, Sanabria-Véaz says to check out GEO’s next event which will be hosted online on Friday April 30th, more information can be found on their Facebook page.
Casey says this is pivotal time and that living under the current pandemic creates an opportunity to recognize the urgency of protecting the environment.
“I think the pandemic highlighted how interconnected environmental issues, not only the environment that we’re in but also our own health” said Casey, “and how these companies are polluting our air and our water which influence our own well-being.”
To get involved with SECS and their future events or protests visit their Facebook page or website at https://secs-uiuc.blogspot.com/?fbclid=IwAR1FHE-lX8GBhnRu0Lib0HfGC0lT2WKdS-rqhadvZxeUn4eDFfxxflAyH64