Student protestors call on McConnell to acknowledge a Green New Deal


The Sunrise Movement is a youth grassroots organization advocating for environmental justice. Photo by Piper Hansen.

Piper Hansen

Manual students joined dozens of collegiate activists in front of the University of Louisville Humanities Building this afternoon in support of a Green New Deal and to call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to recognize the plan’s importance.

Speakers including Manual’s Trevor Harry (12, HSU) and Destine Grigsby (12, YPAS) addressed the crowd on ways climate change had impacted their lives and why the Sunrise Movement is so important to them.

Harry recollected the time his grandparents went to Puerto Rico just before Hurricane Maria and were devastated by the aftermath and the lack of government funding for relief.

As a rape survivor, Grigsby spoke about how her rights to her own body and the control over what happened to her had been taken away and she related it back to her fight for climate change.

“I remember thinking [after it happened], ‘Are you really done just because of all that has been taken away [from you]?'” she said. “I remember thinking ‘No! This cannot be the end of me.’ I remember telling myself that no matter what, I would continue to fight for my own rights and I would not only continue to fight for my own rights but I would continue to fight for the rights of those around me.”

Mandala Gupta VerWiebe (10, J&C) led Manual’s student protest group. A few weeks before today’s event, she sent emails to Principal Mr. Darryl Farmer and the other assistant principals about what the students would be doing and the reasons behind it using a letter template from the Sunrise Movement.

When administrators learned that the students were planning to walk off campus to UofL, they began to crack down on the students, explaining that detentions and Saturday school would be possible disciplinary actions as a result of the walkout.

At the start of the school day on the day of the walkout, roughly 10 students visited Farmer’s office where, according to students in the meeting, he told them that the punishment would be suspension if the students walked out and left campus.

“It’s our freedom to protest,” Gupta VerWiebe said. “[Administrators] are telling us that they’re going to give us consequences if we decide to protest and that’s […] unfair. It’s a gross display of them taking advantage of the power imbalance.”

Despite the possibility of suspension and other punishments from Manual administration if the students walked out to attend the climate rally on time at 2 p.m., Grigsby left her class in the YPAS building to walk to Manual and wait for her peers to join her on the walk to UofL.

“I care so deeply that we change what we’re doing that I’m willing to get suspended for it,” Grigsby said. “Climate change is something that affects everybody. I have a lot of identities — my family is Mexican, I’m lower-income but I know no matter what, climate change will affect everyone, including me.”

When the rest of the group met with Grigsby outside of the main building when school let out, they walked to UofL together.

“Our big message [to Mitch McConnell] is that we want him to look us Kentuckians in the eyes and tell us that the $1.9 million from fossil fuel CEOs is more important than our futures,” Grigsby said.

Student attendees seemed to be impressed by the speakers and wanted others to know that climate change is not as complex as a lot of politicians make it out to be. Last October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report announcing that there were only 12 years to limit climate change before it gets out of hand.

“I’m really really scared for my future,” Gupta VerWiebe said. “I think that the more I learn the more scared I get because I’m learning that my life could be cut in half because of climate change and people still don’t believe in it.”

After the rally’s conclusions, Manual students like Grigsby were looking forward to visiting McConnell’s Washington, D.C. office and ensuring that local politicians are also aware of the issue and just how much it will affect Kentuckians and the youth of the world.

“We want to come back even stronger in the future,” Marilyn Buente (10, VA) said. “Although it’s scary when we get threatened to have things put on our permanent record and we feel like it could destroy our future in a way…you know what else is going to destroy our future? The environmental crisis.”

“My number one thing in life is my activism and my involvement in the community not my school,” Grigsby said. “It’s time that we, as Manual students, take risks to fight for what we know is right. How can we say we support climate change reform if we’re not really willing to get a suspension for it when people around the world are dying for it?”

Administrators were unavailable to comment but this story will be updated.