Criticisms of climate protest miss the mark with undue, crass outrage

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Graphic by Maggie More / The Flat Hat

This past Friday, Sept. 20, student protesters gathered on the College of William and Mary’s Sunken Garden to advocate for comprehensive policies addressing climate change. While I was not able to attend the rally — thank goodness that The Flat Hat livestreamed it — I’ve heard everything from glowing praise to scathing condemnation regarding the protest’s effectiveness, and upon reflection, I’ve decided that the insults hurled at student protesters since Friday are mostly unfair and fail to provide a complete picture of what went down last week.

The most ubiquitous complaint I’ve overheard about the strikers is that being able to participate in a rally during class time is little more than an indication of privilege, and that student protestors were more interested in obtaining flashy content for their Instagram stories than securing sincere policy objectives. At some level, I can appreciate the criticism here. It is more difficult for students on academic probation to take time off class to participate in a voluntary rally, and students pursuing work study employment cannot afford to skip a shift just to mill about on the Sunken Garden. However, by no means does this signify that every individual at the strike is too blinded by their own privilege to have a genuine interest in supporting environmental sustainability. These claims are painting with far too broad of a brush by suggesting that each individual there was only there for the edgy social media posts, and it does a great disservice to categorize a diverse group of attendees so unfavorably.

Students against the strike also disparaged its attendees by arguing that rallying is a more passive form of protest than other active mechanisms, and that protestors would have been more successful in combating climate change by writing their congressional representatives and adopting more sustainable lifestyle habits. This is an ill-prepared and judgmental critique. Believe it or not, people are entirely capable of doing more than one thing at a time. It is entirely feasible that some students attended the rally and then immediately proceeded to follow up their attendance with supplementary advocacy measures; I sincerely doubt that many students attended the rally and believed they’d solved climate change within the span of 60 minutes. Granted, if there are any students with this mindset, I’d cherish insulting them just as much as the next twamp, but it’s difficult to believe that anyone on campus is quite that foolish.

Let’s be honest: the College is a pretty progressive place, and I’m sure that an overwhelming majority of students here recognize climate change as a pressing national priority. Why are we wasting time tearing down students attempting to address this topic? We’d be better served by avoiding the infighting and getting to work on solutions, which is what the student protestors were trying so desperately to convey. While I wasn’t able to join them, I’m grateful for their work, and I think we all should be too.

Email Ethan Brown at ewbrown@email.wm.edu.