UVM student activists demand change at Burlington climate strike


Paige Fisher

Students march down Main Street during the climate strike Oct. 23.

Hundreds of community members and UVM students gathered outside City Hall for this year’s Climate Strike, calling for UVM, Vermont and national decision-makers to confront the climate crisis.

Attendees of the strike marched from UVM’s Waterman Green down Main Street, fists in the air, finally assembling in front of the City Hall where they heard from activists and politicians, including David Zuckerman, democratic candidate for governor. 

Zuckerman urged the community to push for action, noting the important role students play in pushing for policy change. 

“Most elected people know a little bit about a lot of things, but the students and our constituents, often on an individual issue, know more than we do,” Zuckerman said. “And so you are our resource, you are our library of information.” 

Friday’s strike featured 14 demands ranging from banning fossil fuels in all new infrastructure in Burlington to terminating Officers Cory Campell and Joseph Corrow from the Burlington Police Department.

The organizers especially focused on holding UVM accountable for its sustainability goals, removing the F-35 fighter jets from the Burlington area and voting democrats into office.

Zuckerman urged the crowd and the students in attendance to vote out incumbent Republican Governor Phil Scott, as well as President Donald Trump. He also asked Vermonters to vote for Lieutenant Governor Candidate Molly Gray.

“I hope for those of you that vote, that you’ll vote for both of us,” Zuckerman said. “And for those of you who don’t vote, I want you to seriously think about the ramifications.”

Members of the Burlington community gather in front of City Hall for the climate strike, Oct. 23. (Ethan Gatfield/The Vermont Cynic)

Some attendees of the march said they came because of the approaching election and to support the climate movement on a broader scale, not because of the specific demands raised by organizers. 

“Honestly I’m not really too involved with the demands for at least this rally, but just in general I came to show my support,” said UVM first-year Sabine Love.

Student organizers and local activists that spoke at the march also focused on systematic oppression within climate change, the climate movement and UVM’s environmentalist culture.

“The truth is that UVM’s brand of environmentalism is inherently tied to white supremacy,”  said UVM senior and activist Chris Harrell outside Waterman Green before the group marched down Church Street.

“I think it’s appropriate then to refer to UVM’s brand of environmentalism as white environmentalism,” they said.

Speakers also criticized UVM’s failure to follow through on its Climate Action Plan, made in 2010, in which they agreed to 100% carbon and net zero thermal energy in 2020. 

“We’re not very close to [those sustainability goals] at all,” UVM Senior and Organizer Sarah Sciortino said. “We also committed to net zero transportation emissions by 2025, which we’re also not on track to meet.” 

Many also called for decision-makers to land all of the F-35 fighter jets in the Burlington area. 

Climate strike participants smash a replica of an F-35 in front of City Hall, Oct. 23. (Ethan Gatfield/The Vermont Cynic)

The F-35s are military jets based in South Burlington that fly over Winooski, a densely populated city with a high concentration of residents of color. 

“They didn’t have to put F-35 jets in a city,” Leas said. “They had other choices. Why did they pick the most populated part of Vermont? The part where they could aim at Winooski?”

Leas also said the F-35’s can cause permanent damage to the hearing, learning and cognitive development of children, and that it makes affordable housing uninhabitable due to severe noise pollution.

In front of City Hall, organizers used wooden sticks to destroy a paper mache model of a fighter jet with the words “$77.9 Million” painted in bold letters on the front, the projected cost to fly F-35s in 2022.