On March 15, 2019, 200 students, community members, and global activists came together at Columbia University to demand political action on climate change.
This gathering was part of a global movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who skipped school in August, 2018 to rally in front of the Swedish parliament.
A couple of speakers at the Columbia strike shared their story about how climate change has personally affected their lives, and Naomi Hollard was among them. Hollard is a passionate 20-year-old climate activist who organized Sunrise Columbia, the Columbia University sector of the Sunrise Movement.
I had the pleasure to meet up with Naomi afterward to chat about what led her to this mission, the actions Sunrise Columbia is taking and what she hopes to see for this planet’s future. Here is the transcript below:
Public Goods: Hey Naomi, I would love to start off by learning about your story and what got you started on this mission?
Naomi Hollard: Well, it really started off with my fear and anxiety around climate change when I was nine years old when I saw the documentary from Al Gore on climate change. It was from there that I wanted positive change to happen. I wanted someone to be able to stop this.
So for example, when I was in middle school, they were going to tear down this forest around my home, and I was so hurt. So as a seventh-grader, I started a petition that I spread around the school.
One of the librarians asked, “What is this going to do? What are you expecting of this?” and I was like, “To not cut the trees down?”, and she said, “Well, how do you plan to do that?”
So it wasn’t a very successful first activist experience, but I have always been interested in taking a more serious role in climate activism.
Then in 2015 Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean, and I was seriously terrified for my family. It was very stressful for me, because my entire mom’s side is from Guadalupe. I have cousins, uncles, aunts, and my entire family’s burial there. My history is there — and if a hurricane hits, the islands will be totally destroyed.
Luckily we didn’t get hit, though. It was only level 3. But all of this emotion built up inside of me, and we were seeing the effects of climate change, and nothing was being done. And then the IPCC report came out that said we only have 12 years to take action, and I was like, “How are we going to do this if we’re not doing anything today?”
PG: So how did you decide to do something and get involved with Sunrise Movement?
NH: Well, truthfully, for the longest time, there was no group I knew of that could really help an activist make massive change that would actually solve climate change. I always felt it was small-scale, and I didn’t feel welcomed in the space. Plus there was a lot of politics, and I was a little bit put off by that.
And then I saw a video on Facebook from a guy named Jeremy, where Sunrise sat in at Nancy Pelosi’s office, and I was so moved. I saw what they were doing, and I looked them up, and I was like, “This is what I’m looking for, this is what I’ve been searching for.” As soon as I saw it, I jumped on board.
So I set up the Sunrise Columbia hub. There was already a Sunrise NYC hub, but the college students have different schedules and different needs. The NYC hub is great, but I thought it would be awesome if Columbia had one to cater to students!
PG: What are your meetings like at Sunrise Movement?
NH: At the meetings, we have the Sunrise principles to use. There are 11 little points we need to follow if we want to take action in the name of Sunrise. Some of the things are, like, we are a movement of all people, another is that we take whatever time we can. Sunrise is about inclusivity — so if you come to a meeting, I’m going to ask your name, we’re going to sit down and talk, you’re going to be a part of this. You become a part of the Sunrise family. We have rituals, and we joke around and have a good time. That’s why people come to our meetings.
PG: So, I’m curious, why do the college students come to the group? Why is this so important to them?
NH: Yeah, so there’s a wide range of reasons why they come to the meetings. There’s a lot of them who are similar to me; they have a personal story about how climate change has impacted their lives. We have one female member from Utah, where the air is really polluted. Things like that. Where, basically, their environment is a health issue.
Then there are some people who I would say are more concerned with how climate change impacts the earth. So some people are really concerned about its impact on nature, coral reefs, ecosystems, and things like that.
So, definitely. I would say there’s a wide range of people that are involved. And I think we Columbia students fundamentally understand that climate change is something that needs to be taught. So I think the people who come are the ones who are really ready to take action.
PG: Wow! So cool. I think it’s so cool how everyone’s just coming together in that way, all for different beliefs, you know?
NH: Yeah, absolutely. It’s exciting.
PG: Yeah, it’s really exciting. So what do you envision for Sunrise Movement in the next 5 to 10 years? What do you hope to see moving forward?
NH: Yeah, that’s a great question. I mean, I guess for me personally right now, I would love to see Sunrise become established as a pillar of Columbia where everybody knows Sunrise and everybody who wants to get involved in the fight to stop climate change joins Sunrise.
Also, we’re talking a lot about reaching out to our local communities; possibly labor unions, and different groups. I would love to see ourselves fortifying our solidarity with these different groups. I think that’s really what I would love to see at least in the next year.
And then, I mean, in the next 5 years — wow that’s a long time — I think I would love to see this continued action and obviously this continued intensity. We have a lot of really exciting people on board. So just continuing that momentum would be great in itself, but to be honest with you, 5 years is so far away. I don’t exactly know what our community and our country will be needing from us precisely, but I do know that short-term-wise, we need to elect leaders who are actually going to take climate change seriously and take climate action.
PG: Cool. And what kind of impact do you hope to see with the environment?
NH: Oh, man. I mean the Green New Deal. That is what I really envision. I want to be able to sit back on a rocking chair and look at the skyline in the sunset and be able to think that we did it. Like we helped enact change and we helped set up and transition our country in the right direction.
Because in 10 years, if you look at the IPCC report, they state a serious systemic change within the next 11 years. So my hope is that within 10 years we’ll have achieved everything we’re rallying behind.
PG: Wow! I see you on that rocking chair. I see the vision of that. You sitting on that rocking chair and being like, we did this.
NH: Exactly, exactly. That’s my hope, but we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then to receive that.
PG: Yes, for sure! Now, for people who are reading this article, how can they personally make a daily impact on the environment? What are some tips that you give to people to help support the plan?
NH: I think before I fully answer that, I would like to first bring a consciousness to the fact that the way to enact change in terms of stopping climate change is no longer solely in our personal hands. If we buy ourselves LED light bulbs or we drive a Prius, that sort of change is fantastic. I encourage it, but it’s no longer big enough to combat climate change in and of itself.
We are pivoting the movement to be on a larger scale, which means I think the biggest things people can do is, for example, write letters to the editor in their local newspapers saying how they support the Green New Deal, call their representatives, and encourage them to take climate action. We must keep pushing our leaders for climate action. Also, we must vote in leaders who are actually going to push for climate action. So I think in a lot of ways nowadays, for people to really help enact change, they need to vote for people in line with that mission.
PG: Yeah. What if people want to be more involved in an organization like Sunrise Movement? How can they contribute or get involved?
NH: So we have this really easy-to-use website, sunrisemovement.org that you can go to. We have about 150 hubs across the country. A hub is essentially just a conglomerate of people, a group of people who have decided to work in line with the Sunrise principles. So for example, someone who’s reading this right now, if they don’t have a hub nearby, but they really want to take action, they can establish a hub themselves easily. There are an immense amount of resources and training levels offered online that can guide them through whatever they need.
A hub could also be started with you and your friends. That’s how I started. So it doesn’t even have to be like, “Oh, I want to invite all these random people, and I’m going to go talk to my governor,” and things like that. No, it doesn’t have to be so big.
It can literally be like, “Oh, me and my two besties, we want to stop climate change.” And then you can start a hub. That’s a hub. You can write letters today. I mean there are so many ways you can get involved.
For instance, writing a letter to the editor or calling your representatives — these are all extremely important. And honestly, what’s really important to know is that whatever action you take, whatever you do is so important. You know, I don’t want anyone to feel discredited because they haven’t gotten the VCs or because they haven’t organized a climate change strike, whatever it is. If you call your representatives, you are making a change. So I think that for people who are limited on time or are shy, whatever you can give, we will take.
I mean, that’s for Sunrise Movement, but obviously, there are other great organizations to get involved with. I mean, honestly, any organization that’s really pushing for this sort of large-scale change is great.
PG: I love what you said about taking small actions toward climate change and approving of whatever it is that you do.
NH: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for putting that into words, because that is something that I have seen in my parents, for example, like my parents said the same thing. They’re like, “Naomi, I’m not an activist. I can’t do this.”
I’m like, “No, Mom, you have a voice, you are a person, you are a member of this society. Whatever you can give, whatever you can do is so powerful because everybody does that. If everyone gives up just an hour in their week or whatever it is, that’s millions of hours given by different people.”
PG: Yeah! I absolutely agree with that. Last question: Is there anything else you want the reader to take away from this interview?
NH: Oh, man. I think that a lot of people feel afraid and anxious about climate change. And I want to encourage them to transform that stress and anxiety around climate change into action. I’m going to tell you right now when you do, it feels so good. It’s so good.
And also, another general point; there’s a lot of misinformation about the Green New Deal. So, I think it’s important to read up on the Green New Deal. I think that as of now we are fighting against a lot of misinformation. And I strongly encourage people to read the actual resolution. It takes very little time.
PG: Awesome! Well, Naomi, this was just so much fun for me. Thank you for your passion and for the movement that you’ve started.
If you would like to learn more about Sunrise Movement, go to their website here.
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