Every Friday, students from Antioch and Keene State College, members of local climate action groups, and concerned citizens gather on the Keene Central Square. The attendees carry hand-made signs, banners for their organizations, and (on one occasion) penguin costumes.
These colorful celebrations of activism are the Keene Climate Strikes, an initiative of the Youth Climate Alliance and chance for the community to share climate woes, challenges, and victories.
In the fall of 2019, young climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN Climate Action Summit and the accompanying Climate Strikes captured the world’s attention and brought people out into the streets to protest the lack of action on climate change. Keene was no exception, with people rallying in the square in a show of solidarity with their fellow activists around the world. The initial strike was held by the New Hampshire Youth Movement.
After the main strike, the Alliance for Youth Climate Leadership (run by AUNE faculty and students) wanted to keep the momentum going in the movement. They organized weekly strikes on Keene Central Square for students and citizens to get together and show support for climate action.
“The idea was just to have a place where people could come and congregate once a week.” Says Erik Nielson, co-coordinator of the Strikes. There are some great activism groups working in the area but sometimes it’s hard to get everyone together with group schedules and different days and times when they all meet. The strikes provide a set window each week for all those different efforts to congregate, exchange ideas, and network. But it wasn’t an immediate hit.
“There was a week or two where it was just me.” Erik confesses.
“I got pulled in because Erik was sitting out there so pitifully alone for a couple of weeks.” Says fellow co-coordinator Olivia Jones. “So I went and I joined him and then I realized that I might as well do it officially through the Alliance if I was going to take the time out of my week to be there anyway.”
Originally, it was an independent effort but then the New Hampshire Youth Movement and the Sunrise Movement got involved. Students from KSC regularly join the strikes and contribute ideas, time, and coordination effort. “Now we’ve reached a point where we’ve all merged.” Olivia reflects. “Which is really the goal of the [Youth Climate] Alliance: mentorship between graduate/undergraduates.”
Erik agrees. “Community is the biggest thing. When Olivia started coming consistently, it wasn’t just me alone with a sign anymore. [Olivia] made it a consistent thing. It’s evolved a lot but the biggest thing is that community aspect.”
The community aspect is certainly clear for everyone involved. With so many different groups of people coming together over a single goal, the strikes are generating a very positive atmosphere. Music, free beverages/food, and dancing are not uncommon at these events. People even show remote support either by honking as they drive past or directly thanking the participants.
“It’s…the sense of community and dependability that keeps me coming back.” Olivia reflects, “There are weeks where it’s super cold or rainy and I reach out to people to cancel and they beg us to still do it. It’s become a cornerstone in a lot of people’s lives. It’s important enough just to make sure they have something to look forward to and a community to touch base with every week. Even if it feels small or harsh some weeks, the sense of community and dependency always brings me back. Going forward as the weather warms up, I’d like to see some of the students bringing out their musical instruments…to make it a more positive atmosphere.”
“Cornhole too!” Erik adds. “I’d love to get a cornhole tournament going at one of these.”
For the past few months now, the strikes have brought out a consistent 15-20 people each week, representing different organizations. It’s a cohesive community now and it keeps growing.
Erik and Olivia are now working closely with KSC students and the Alstead chapter of Extinction Rebellion to plan for a large Earth Day event. The goal is for a massive day of direct action: strikes, marches, sit-ins at political offices and other action again inaction. All of it is being devised by KSC students and what they want to do. But it is an indication of how the strike has mobilized networking between so many different groups and generated a more consistent connection between climate activists.
“There’s so much good work being done locally that I feel like this could be an easy way for people to meet, exchange ideas, and get further support.” Says Erik.
“[The strikes] are almost like ‘climate office hours’.” Olivia says, “You can count on finding people you need in the square at that time.”
The goal of the Youth Climate Alliance is to help people connect with the greater climate activism movement however they feel they best could; be it through strikes, behind the scenes organizing, or writing letters to congresspeople. Olivia and Erik are graduating soon but they feel that the strikes will continue on without them. In the past few weeks, KSC sophomore Robby St. Laurent (a hub organizer for NH Youth Movement) has stepped up to into a leadership role for the strikes. Olivia and Erik are confident he will carry on the initiative after they graduate.
“The Alliance’s goal is connecting people,” Olivia insists, “…not necessarily holding the reins for events. We start these things, find the person to lead it, who to connect them with, and give it to youth voices.”
To join the Keene Climate Strikes, just come on down to Keene Central Square at 12pm on any Friday. Questions about the Youth Climate Alliance can be directed to Jason Rhoades [email protected]