Dozens of students, teachers and activists gathered Sunday afternoon outside City Hall to launch the Green New Deal for Chicago Public Schools campaign, urging officials to increase investments in green schools and climate resiliency.
Supporters clutched hand-painted signs listing demands as Chicago civic and educational leaders addressed the crowd.
“I’m convinced that fighting for green schools and a Green New Deal is the best plan we have to address some of the most urgent problems facing our schools,” said Lauren Bianchi, chair of the Chicago Teachers Union Climate Justice Committee and a teacher at George Washington High School.
The campaign, dubbed GND4CPS for short, is supported by CTU and organized by Sunrise Movement Chicago, a local chapter of a national organization seeking to combat climate change.
The campaign will build community resilience and right historical injustices in public schools, according to Sunrise. The campaign’s main demands include safe and clean buildings; pathways to green jobs; climate disaster response plans; a climate justice curriculum; free, healthy and sustainable meals; community gardens and composting; free public transit and an electric fleet of school vehicles.
Several rally attendees stood below a towering sculpture in Daley Plaza as they held signs. Two supporters displayed a large canvas banner, emblazoned with the campaign’s name. Speakers took turns addressing an eager crowd through a megaphone.
“This is our plan to make sure that Chicago is safer and stronger together,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th. “So thank you to the students, always, for being the leaders. This is a time for us to listen to young people.” He walked off the platform chanting “Sí se puede.”
Climate change is causing damage globally and locally, including extreme weather and historic flooding in
Chicago. Since 1970, the 48 contiguous states have warmed by about 2.5 degrees, according to the National Climate Assessment released in November.
CPS has implemented a climate action plan outlining sustainability goals. Additionally, the district recently announced that it would buy and operate up to 50 electric school buses. But rally attendees said it’s not enough, citing rapidly deteriorating school buildings and extreme heat in classrooms during the summer months, among other issues.
Social studies teacher Kevin Moore described falling ceiling panels, asbestos and poor ventilation plaguing classrooms at George Washington High School.
“Most concerning is the impact the current state of the buildings has on students,” Moore said. “It is not uncommon for students to use words like ‘miserable’ or ‘This school feels like prison’ to describe the lack of joy being in school.”
Seventeen-year-old Jalen Grimes, a senior at Jones College Prep, danced and stomped across the platform as she led the crowd in chants. “The students, united, will never be divided,” she sang. Attendees whooped and cheered when she finished.
“We don’t have much time left to fix the things that are making the world break down,” Grimes said. “We’re often given the message that climate change is so far out there when it’s currently affecting us, and people are struggling with it.”
Grimes is one of the campagin coordinators and a leader of her Sunrise Chicago school team. She first began volunteering with the organization after participating in its summer camp last year.
“Young people are the future, and just because we didn’t cause the problems doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be out there fixing them,” Grimes said.
As the rally concluded, Sunrise Chicago volunteers passed out hot chocolate and hand warmers, encouraging attendees to sign the campaign’s petition.
Arjan Batth, 20, the event’s emcee, juggled a stack of papers and the megaphone as he spoke with attendees. The philosophy student at the University of Chicago first became a Sunrise Chicago volunteer last year.
“Climate change is the single greatest threat facing future generations,” Batth told the crowd. “Students, teachers, parents and community members, come together across lines of race and class … Make the Green New Deal for CPS a reality.”