‘I’m still terrified for my future’: Cedar Rapids climate protesters want solutions on local, national level

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Cedar Rapids climate march, Dec. 6, 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Chants of “Green New Deal,” “this is what democracy looks like,” and “fossil fuels have got to go” filled the streets of Cedar Rapids on Friday night, as part of climate strikes organized around the country on Dec. 6.

It was an emotional night for many, as marchers shared the reasons why they’re striking and emphasized the need for accelerated action to combat climate change. Around 120 people attended the first half of the event at Raygun’s NewBo District location, and about 100 people marched from the store to Cedar Rapids City Hall.

“I’m still terrified for my future, a future for all the young people I love,” said Ayla Boylen, a student at Mount Mercy University who strikes outside City Hall every Friday.

Boylen discussed findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on rising carbon emissions and the need to lower these emissions faster than previously suggested. Global carbon emissions are expected to hit a record high this year.

“When I saw this, I felt very guilty, like I somehow should have done more,” Boylen said. “I had to remind myself that I’m doing everything I can and the only people who should feel guilty for these changes are those who have denied the science, or even worse, understood the science and neglected to act anyway.”

Cedar Rapids climate march, Dec. 6, 2019. U.S. Senate candidate Kimberly Graham is the second from the left. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Bridget Williams and Jason Snell, co-leaders of Sunrise Movement Cedar Rapids, said that earlier in the day organizers met with city staff and Cedar Rapids City Councilmembers Dale Todd and Tyler Olson. Williams said she’s “highly optimistic.”

“This march is not the end,” Williams said. “It is very important that you continue to fight. We’re going to be collaborating with the city of Cedar Rapids and the county of Linn County for as long as it takes to get something passed, to get a Green New Deal passed at every level.”

Before Friday’s march, the Linn County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring a climate crisis. Supervisor Stacey Walker, who was one of the speakers at Friday’s event, also mentioned that the county is considering hiring a sustainability coordinator.

“This is just the beginning,” Walker said. “We intend to use the power of our office to continue to elevate this issue in the minds of Linn County residents.”

Cedar Rapids climate march, Dec. 6, 2019. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

Sunrise Movement Cedar Rapids is also focusing on change at the national level. At the end of November, the group endorsed Kimberly Graham for U.S. Senate. Graham is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Republican Sen. Joni Ernst in the Nov. 2020 general election. Graham was also endorsed by Walker in September.

“She was not endorsed by national establishment groups who want to see more of the same,” Walker said about Graham. “She was endorsed by grassroots organizations like the Sunrise Movement and activists who understand that in order to change this country we are going to need bold progressive policies to do it.”

The Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) endorsed Theresa Greenfield in June, three days after she announced her candidacy.

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“If the DSCC must endorse someone, I think it’s reasonable for them to let everybody run for six months or something, and see how the candidates do, see how they campaign, see how much work they put into things, and maybe then make a decision about what’s an appropriate endorsement,” Graham told Little Village before the event.

Graham lists combating climate change as one of her top issues, calling it “a national security threat, an environmental health threat, an economic threat and a threat to our existence, ultimately.”

“I’m only going to be one person out of 100 in the United States Senate, but I can guarantee you right now I will be one of the loudest and the most persistent,” Graham said. “I have a 20-year-old son, and this planet needs to be here for him when he’s older, and it won’t be if we don’t start doing something.”

During the event, Williams echoed Graham’s sense of urgency, pointing to increased flooding, droughts, wildfires, biodiversity loss and other “climate tipping points that will send us to an uninhabitable Earth.”

“I say all of this not to scare you but to inspire you to commit to climate action, to encourage you to imagine a city and a county that can respond to the challenge of climate change,” Williams said.

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