By Laura Mandelberg
On Friday, Sept 20th, I danced and chanted and marched with thousands of other people at the Climate Strike in downtown Boston, as part of a worldwide day of action in which over 4 million people took part. We were striking because scientists tell us that we have less than 11 years to radically remake our society in order to prevent the worst of climate catastrophe, yet our leaders have failed to take action at anywhere near necessary scale; because the climate crisis is an issue of racial, gender, and economic justice; and because, most simply, we want to have a livable future.
City Hall Plaza was filled with strikers of all ages, from infants to octogenarians, Gen X-ers to high school students with signs referencing the latest memes. After a program of powerful speakers and a short dance break, we marched to the State House, where a smaller group held a sit-in.
This is how I live out my Jewish values. This is how, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I pray with my feet. Rosh Hashanah is coming up, as is my one-year anniversary of getting involved with Sunrise Movement, which was one of the groups organizing the climate strike. It’s fitting that I joined Sunrise shortly after the Jewish New Year, because it was very much a new beginning for me. I’d been involved in the climate movement on and off for years, but had never quite found my place until I walked into a Sunrise orientation training last fall. I knew right away that I belonged among this group of dedicated, passionate, welcoming people – this group that was grounded both in movement history and in song.
Within the past year, we’ve grown from a small, little-known organization to the driving force behind the Green New Deal, which has been endorsed by every major Democratic presidential candidate. Along with the Youth Climate Strike, Extinction Rebellion, and other groups, we’ve finally managed to push climate change into the mainstream consciousness – and not a moment too soon, as the climate disasters come faster and faster.
Mary Annaïse Heglar, a brilliant climate justice essayist, writes that climate change is far from the first existential crisis that humans have faced; the climate movement needs to learn from communities of color, especially Black Americans, who have faced and are still facing their own existential threats.
As a Jew, and a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I feel this in my bones. I draw strength from the long history of Jewish activists and organizers who have fought for justice and freedom, even in the face of total annihilation. I draw strength from everyone who found a way to survive so that I could be here today.
I also draw strength from the long Jewish tradition of finding joy amidst pain and fear; as the saying goes, nearly all Jewish holidays can be summed up as, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” This is why I feel so at home in a movement that makes space for celebration: from dancing to BABAM’s infectious music at protests to showing up at Senator Edward Markey’s office with party hats and cake to thank him for co-sponsoring the Green New Deal resolution. I’ve even found a role where I can make communal joy a central part of my activist work: as a co-lead of the Sunrise Boston community team, I plan social events for our members to relax, have fun, and get to know each other outside of meetings and actions.
At another recent protest – as part of a group of Jews, immigrants, and allies, including many of my Sunrise friends, protesting ICE’s inhumane policies – we sung:
We’ve got ancestors at our backs
We’ve got generations forward
We’ve got land and spirit in our bones
Never again, para nadie
For me, being a Jewish woman in the climate movement means: I’ve got ancestors at my back. I carry on traditions of joy and resistance and finding hope in community. I don’t know what will happen – and there are plenty of good reasons to be terrified – but I know that my people have faced unimaginable horrors, and we’re still here. I know that we can repair the world, together.
Laura Mandelberg is active in Sunrise, a movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. Within the Boston hub, she is a co-lead of the community team, which plans social events for members to deepen their relationships with each other. She loves dogs, fashion, and making terrible puns. You can find her on Twitter at @TutusNTinyHats.