by Emma Polen | features editor
April 28, 2022
This Earth Day, about 50 Pittsburgh youth took to the streets to express their concern about the environment as well as other calls for justice in racial and economic equality.
The rally first gathered on the Grant Street steps of the City-County Building, and then marched across the city blocks for an hour before returning back to the building. The march stopped traffic twice along their route, including at the large intersection between Liberty and Stanwix Street.
Sunrise Movement, a nation-wide youth climate justice organization, was credited with primarily coordinating the event. Sunrise is committed to the mission of the Green New Deal, a federal climate proposal, and making good jobs accessible for all, according to Taiji Nelson, a Sunrise Movement leader from Warren, Pa.
Fracking and fracking waste were a specific environmental concern brought up more than once at the rally. Posters proclaimed the line “Frack No,” and one speaker shared the story of fracking pollution affecting residents in Rostraver, Pa.
Mass transit, a “green job” as one speaker called it, was also a discussion at the rally. Karen Smith from Carnegie came in her electric wheelchair with a sign around her neck asking for better bus routes.
Smith explained that Pittsburgh Port Authority had recently adjusted their routes, making it more difficult for commuters, especially those with disabilities, to make the distance to their bus stop.
Street performer and justice activist Man-E attended the rally with the Labor Choir, a local group focusing on union and anti-fascist songs. Labor Choir was one of four musically-engaged groups at the event.
“All of these justices are connected,” Man-E said. “Climate justice is related to economic justice, and…economic justice is connected to racial justice.”
Two guitarists and a number of tambourines also contributed to the chants, leading attendees in energetic choruses including “Stop, stop, stop the frack attack.”
The rally was not exclusively for youth movements, but young people made up the majority of the crowd nonetheless. A group of six sixth-graders from Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) came right from classes Downtown holding freshly painted signs, including one which read, “When leaders act like kids.”
Among the notable youth in attendance was Vanessa Gonzalez-Rychener, a high school sophomore who co-founded the Pittsburgh Youth Climate Council (PYCC) after a frustrating experience trying to get involved in environmental action in middle school. The organization is determined to help young activists find their place in the movement, according to Gonzalez-Rychener.
“PYCC makes a pipeline from interest to action,” she said, something that she believed was lacking in schools for students.
Another youth leader at the rally was Luna Plaza, who introduced herself as a Latina youth leader in intersexual, environmental justice. Plaza spoke at several intervals during the rally. Her speech at the Liberty-Stanwix Street stop on the rally route consisted of several “I am tired” statements.
“I am tired of discrimination,” Plaza said with an ASL interpreter by her side. The young activist graduated high school at CAPA last spring, and is now using her time to reach others about the importance of action, also as a member of the PA Youth Advocacy Network.
Plaza was joined by Ilyas Khan in the center of the rally’s circle. Khan is a senior at Winchester Thurston School, and recently just turned 18.
“This rally is not the end, it’s only the beginning,” Khan said, encouraging those in attendance to improve their eco-friendly habits and visit upcoming environmental justice events in Pittsburgh.
College students from around Pittsburgh attended the rally.
A group of students from University of Pittsburgh’s Divest coalition carried a banner protesting their school’s continued commitment of $300 million to fossil fuels each year.
Duquesne students also joined the rally. “It [climate change] is a really big issue that people like to deny,” said Ava Bailey, a freshman biology major. She attended the rally with her friends to bring attention to environmental concerns and to “make the most of [Earth Day] when people are thinking about it.”
Lora Nowak, a freshman psychology and criminal justice student, tagged along as well. “If there’s something I can do about it, I’ll do it,” she said.
The student who probably traveled the longest distance to make the rally was senior Kylie Murphy from Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
The global communication and media advocacy student came to Pittsburgh to take pictures of the rally because she said there were no similar events closer to home.
“I wanted to do something good for the Earth on the day of the Earth,” Murphy said.