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Climate change funeral: Strikers hold ‘die-in’ at UMass Amherst

  • Performers known as the Red Brigade joined a colorful and animated cast of protest participants Friday at UMass Amherst. Contributed photo

  • Ella Lester, 12, reads a list of demands for the Five Colleges regarding climate change at the demonstration Friday at UMass. SUBMITTED PHOTO



For the Gazette
Saturday, September 28, 2019

AMHERST — Wooden caskets. Black veils. The Grim Reaper.

Although there were no deaths Friday afternoon at the University of Massachusetts, these were sights to behold for students walking to class as climate strikers marched through campus for the second time in a week.

Dressed as the Grim Reaper with a scythe in hand, 12-year-old JFK Middle School student Ella Lester delivered an impassioned speech about climate change to a crowd of over 150 people in front of the Fine Arts Center. To her, the impact of climate change is not limited to any particular community.

“I really got interested in climate change when I noticed that it is a tool for people in positions of power to use against everyone to oppress,” Ester said. “Especially for communities such as people of color, indigenous peoples, poor people and youth.”

Following the climate strike on the university’s campus last Friday, the Extinction Rebellion, a global climate change advocacy group, hosted the “die-in.” Instead of a typical strike, the participants staged a theatrical mass death in front of the arts center, complete with an orchestra and performers known as the Red Brigade. 

Lester’s mother, Adrie Rose, is a graduate student at Smith College and one of the main organizers for Extinction Rebellion in western Massachusetts. She said her children chose to be involved, coming to meetings and opting to dress up in costumes. Rose is a longtime climate activist, and it appears activism will run in the family.

“We’re here to call attention to the climate crisis,” Rose said. “[It’s] a campaign to ask the Five Colleges … to try to move forward in terms of acting as if there is a climate emergency to take even bigger and bolder steps to show leadership.”

With her mother and little brother by her side, Lester lifted her veil and listed five demands for the Five Colleges to follow: declare a state of climate emergency, achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, create a board composed of students and community members to oversee plans, focus on helping groups most vulnerable, and educate students on the dangers of climate change.

“Let us lift up our voices together. Tell the truth. Rebel for life. Despair ends, tactics begin,” Rose said. “This is just the beginning of our campaign — we will be back. The rebellion. Has begun. Go forth together, and rebel for life, chanting we are unstoppable, another world is possible.”

Before the speeches, groups of activists met at six locations on and around the university’s campus. They chanted, wore masks and carried caskets as part of the “funeral processions for our future,” according to organizers. The groups met at the Campus Pond before heading to the arts center. 

“It was more [crowded] than I imagined when we first envisioned this event,” Rose added. “It’s amazing how many people came out. It’s really beautiful.”

The event attracted people of all ages from the local community, from UMass students to older Amherst residents, including Voice Male magazine’s editor, Rob Okun.

“There is no ‘Planet B,’ and if we don’t change our course now, the generation that’s coming after my grandchildren’s generation won’t have a livable planet,” the 69-year-old Okun said.

“I think [climate change] is the most important issue that we have,” said David Matos-Magrass, a senior geology and biology double major at UMass. “It’s touched everything.”

Although the event was relatively small in comparison to climate strikes tin cities across the country and the one on campus last week, Lester remains hopeful that events like these will have an impact.

“I’m here because I feel like we deserve a voice to change our world,” she said. “I believe that just this could make a huge difference.”