More than 100 Newton residents, Newton North students, and activists carried signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “There is no Planet B” in a socially distanced protest Saturday morning. Protesters chanted into megaphones and sang songs about overcoming oppression as the group made the 1.3 mile walk from the Newton Centre Green to Newton City Hall. The goal of the march was to highlight the intersectionality of racial justice and climate justice.
“Today, we are the seed of a movement that was rooted back in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 where black activists were trying to stop a power plant in their community,” Christian Gaines, a Newton North senior and Climate Collective officer, said. “Today we sow the seeds of this movement into our hearts with a conviction of civil rights leaders before us as environmental racism is one of the highest contributors to despair and neglect in communities of color.”
Gains made these remarks on the steps of Newton City hall after various members of the Newton North High School Climate Collective marched from the Newton City Green to Newton City Hall Saturday afternoon demanding action from the City of Newton on the subjects of racial justice and climate change.
The march was organized by Newton High School students—they view the climate crisis and racial justice as complementary issues. The group has divided its demands into three themes of dismantling oppressive systems, creating equitable city opportunities, and taking environmental action.
In order to dismantle oppressive systems, the collective explained their demands. They urge the Mayor to declare racism a public health emergency in Newton.
They’ve called on the Newton Public Schools to incorporate the 1619 Project into its curriculum, which dates the founding of the United States in the year 1619 when the first slave arrived on U.S. soil. The students called for the creation of an additional branch of student government led by BIPOC high schoolers at Newton North and urged the district to educate Newton students on legislation such as the BREATHE Act. The BREATHE Act calls for defunding police departments and allocating the money to other community programs.
“We are supporting and educating on the BREATHE Act and similar legislation,” said Naomi Goldstein, a Newton North student and Newton North High School Climate Collective officer. “We are thinking about broader racial justice laws and how we can bring them to Newton and appoint a branch of student government led by Black and Indigenous people of color.”
The group advocates to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” and calls on the mayor of Newton to regularly consult with Indigenous groups, change the city seal and any other anti-Indigenous language in Newton legislation and monuments, and uphold the principles of the Red New Deal. The Red New Deal was written by Indigenous leaders and builds on the Green New Deal. The Green Deal is a Congressional resolution that calls the federal government to decrease the use of fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions across the country.
“The Red New Deal is a deal that the people of the Red Nation have created in order to bring Indigenous perspectives into our climate justice conversation,” Goldstein said.
The collective said in their demand to the City Council that the Newton Police Department must be defunded, and its funds should be allocated to other causes.
“It’s about re-imagining the police because obviously there needs to be safety in our town,” Goldstein said. “Some of the underfunded programs are public mental health services and domestic violence resources so we are trying to reinvest the funds [from the police] in productive and helpful ways.”
In order to create equitable city opportunities within Newton, the commission demands that the City of Newton abolish single-family housing zoning and increase affordable housing within Newton.
“We support a zoning re-design plan in Newton so there’s less single-family-only housing and there are more subsidized housing opportunities,” Goldstein said.
The commission believes that Newton must support local environmental protection by declaring a climate emergency in Newton and renegotiating the Newton Power Choice contract to ensure all power in Newton is from renewable energy sources.
Newton resident Wendy Lewis said she was participating in the march due to her interests in environmental issues and said she hopes Newton can continue to minimize its environmental impact.
“Newton has been pretty good about giving us a choice to have 100 percent renewable energy,” Lewis said. “I would like to see the state get off fossil fuels and ban fracking. I would like to see the state become a real leader in environmental issues.”
The group spoke about issues beyond the bounds of the City of Newton, too.
“There are many environmentally unjust and dangerous projects being created like the Weymouth compressor station,” Goldstein said. “We are asking for these projects to be halted because they are often created in lower income communities of color and they disproportionately impact those communities.”
The Weymouth compressor station is a proposed site adjacent to the Fore River Bridge in North Weymouth, Mass. Activists, South shore towns, and politicians have tried to block the construction of the natural gas compressor in the past five years. There are five existing compressor stations in Massachusetts.
Multiple members of the Newton North High School Climate Collective and Newton City Ward 5 Councilor Bill Humphrey spoke on the steps of Newton City Hall.
Humphrey urged those in attendance to be active in their local communities and be vocal with their governmental leaders about issues they are passionate about.
“That’s the type of thing that you all can figure out in your communities or at the state level, or even at the federal level,” Humphrey said. “You can find out who is the person that has the most ability to influence the situation and is most likely to be influenced by your activism. You start sending those emails and those letters, they are going to start getting noticed and thinking about how they might need to change their behavior.”
Gaines spoke about the intersection of climate change and racial justice. He said that issues such as the coronavirus pandemic negatively impact communities of color more than their white counterparts.
“Cities with a stable majority [of] white citizens like Newton can have hope while Black and brown and lower income communities continue to be absolutely devastated by the ongoing homelessness and unemployment caused by the virus,” Gaines said.
Gaines called upon Mayor Ruthanne Fuller to declare systemic racism a public health emergency and cited the sizable turnout of protesters as confirmation that many Newton residents share his concerns.
“You all still showed up today and we appreciate that,” Gaines said. “In a community where the mayor has yet to declare systemic racism as a public health crisis, you all still heard George Floyd’s last words echo over the last six months, and we are really grateful that you all are still out here advocating and still pushing for a change.”
Gaines said in an interview after the protest that he was happy about how the protest was conducted and is looking to continue their movement’s momentum into the future.
“We will continue to educate the community on the intersection between racial justice and climate advocacy and just overall keep continuing to keep our voices high and loud,” he said.
Featured Image by Eric Shea/Heights Editor