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Brandeis SEA attends NYC climate protest

As the U.N. gets set to meet, tens of thousands of protestors gathered in New York City (NYC) on Sunday, Sept. 17 to make their voices heard on the climate crisis. This protest was part of Climate Week, “a week-long international effort by Climate Group, a non-profit whose purpose is to drive climate change action and stop global warming.” Attendees included students from NYC, speakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and famed activists like Bill McKibben.

Brandeis students were at the protest in force, with several Brandeis professors in attendance too. One group that helped organize and publicize the march on campus was Brandeis Students For Environmental Action (SEA), a group that aims “to spread awareness about the climate crisis, facilitate change both on and off campus, and give Brandeis students the chance to reconnect with nature.”

The Hoot spoke to Leo Zhang ’25 and Malia Cafasso ’24, the Co-President and Vice President of SEA, to learn more about how Brandeis community members participated in the protest.

Zhang noted that the main organizers of this protest were Professors Charlie Chester, Sally Warner and Sabine von Mering. The professors reached out to SEA in early September to collaborate, knowing that the biggest hurdle for them would be obtaining funding for a bus to and from New York City. He noted that funding came from the BSF (Brandeis Sustainability Fund) and COMPACT (Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation), along with funding from the Environmental Studies program.

Zhang and Cafasso added that their role was to be “student liaisons” and connect students with the organizing professors. They feel proud of their efforts, and feel that this event speaks to “the spirit of Brandeis students a little bit: if we wanna get something done, we’re gonna get it done.”

Cafasso mentioned that students who were attending the protest met around 6:30 a.m. on Sunday and began distributing signs. These signs were made at an event the Thursday before the protest, where students made their own signs. Cafasso mentioned that the students got to New York and Manhattan around 11 a.m. and walked to the welcoming ceremony, where they heard from several different religious groups and indigenous leaders who were making a safe space and setting intentions for the march.

Cafasso mentioned that Prof. von Mering estimated that there would be about 10,000 attendees, “but we later found out that there were over 50,000 people.” 

Zhang added that at the end of the march, the group got to the street where the podium was with the speakers, and noted that Brandeis students were able to see Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speak at that time, stating that it was “a very fierce speech.”

Zhang went on to say that the event was advertised mostly to Environmental Studies majors and minors, but that a lot of the non-environmental-studies attendees came from advertising that SEA did.

Cafasso added that the group consisted of “a lot of freshmen and sophomores, which was great.” Cafasso was enthusiastic about this, because “that’ll be their first memory with [SEA], and that’s … a really cool thing to say.”

Cafasso and Zhang both said that SEA will work to attend and advertise future protests “if there are other opportunities that fit within our schedule and our agenda … especially closer to home in Boston.”

Focusing on on-campus action, Zhang said that “we need less individual actions and more collective ones.” He noted that students should work together to create the change that they want to see on campus.

Cafasso added that one of SEA’s central goals is creating a “space for students to get together.” She encourages people to stay updated about what’s happening in the world, stay in touch with what’s most important and make space for conversations about those topics on campus.

More information about SEA, including any upcoming events, can be found on their Instagram @sea.brandeis.

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