Evanston community comes together to celebrate Earth Week, highlight youth climate change activism

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Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Before COVID-19 struck, leaders said they envisioned Evanston Earth Week differently.

Grace Luxton, Reporter

Evanston residents joined together last week to honor Earth Week without physically gathering at all.

Faced with the challenge of programming during a stay-at-home order, North Shore climate movement leaders teamed up for a week of virtual engagement and entertainment. Earth Week consisted of daily events, from recycling trivia quizzes to email campaigns asking government officials to support climate initiatives.

Led by the city’s Office of Sustainability, the Evanston Ecology Center and Citizens’ Greener Evanston, Earth Week kicked off by encouraging residents to take part in daily challenges. Town hall discussions were hosted over Zoom, including a dialogue with Mayor Steve Hagerty and another with E-Town Sunrise, an Evanston Township High School coalition of student climate activists.

Before COVID-19 struck, leaders envisioned Evanston Earth Week would look completely different.

“We had a huge earth month initiative planned,” ETHS senior and E-Town Sunrise co-founder Bella Hubbard said. “With theme days like 3.5 Percent Day, where we were going to focus on how to mobilize 3.5 percent of the population to join this movement, an indigenous rights day.”

Hubbard and her peers spent months planning an Earth Day climate strike, in which students and neighbors were going to shut down Dodge Avenue outside of the high school.

She said they did not let cancellations slow down the movement and noticed a silver lining instead.

“There has been huge governmental change that proves our government is capable of changing in other ways,” she said. “When this quarantine is over, we can take to the streets and demand a Green New Deal.”

In place of a walkout, Hubbard and her fellow student leaders spoke in a virtual Youth Climate Summit, which included a discussion with U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Naperville) and U.S. Rep. Sean Casten (D-Wheaton). The panel had 130 attendees, Hubbard said, focusing on a crash course in climate action and a spotlight on the importance of global policy changes.

Waubonsie Valley High School junior Meher Sethi, a student on the panel, called the shift to an online webinar “a blessing in disguise.” Sethi said the virtual platform made the webinar accessible to a wider audience.

“What’s interesting to me, about climate action especially, is that when the entire world is shut down because of a global pandemic, us students are still wanting to be heard on something that we see as equally existential,” Sethi said. “I think that’s pretty amazing in its own respect, even if the circumstances are not.”

Chuck Wasserburg, a member of Citizens’ Greener Evanston, was involved in planning Earth Week before the event moved to a virtual space. Given the circumstances, Wasserburg said he believes everyone involved did a good job of “organizing all of the pieces of the puzzle to come together.”

Ultimately, Evanston Earth Week was a reflection on how a community comes together in crisis, not unlike a potential climate-related crisis, Wasserburg said.

“I miss community,” Wasserburg said. “I think we all do. We showed that you can pull these things off in extreme circumstances…but movements are inherently about gathering people in places.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @graceluxton

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