“Policy change not climate change:” Sarasota Students 4 Climate goes digital during COVID-19

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Signs from SS4C’s photo campaigns. All photos courtesy of SS4C.

As in-person activities across Florida have ground to a halt due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, local climate advocacy organization Sarasota Students 4 Climate (SS4C) is bringing climate activism to the virtual sphere. 

In April 2020, SS4C canceled the massive, in-person climate strike planned for Earth Day—an event that SS4C Founder and Team Leader Ella Mirman said was in the works for months.

“We were already doing so much outreach in the middle of planning that strike, and we were trying to get excused absences for it, which would’ve been a really big win for us,” Mirman reflected. “We never really got to see where that took us.”

Although in-person demonstrations and Sarasota County School Board protests may still be a long way off, Mirman, along with SS4C team members Alma Dasberg and Sama Younis, expressed their optimism about organizing virtually and reflected on the creativity that the pandemic has inspired.

“We’ve had the opportunity to brainstorm and come up with initiatives that we never would’ve had the chance to if we’d been still doing in-person climate strikes,” Mirman said.

Dasberg, a sophomore at Booker High School, described the wave of online organizing and strike tactics that emerged in the wake of the pandemic.

“[The pandemic] has been an opportunity to expand our activism,” Dasberg said. “We’re promoting Instagram protests with pictures [of students holding signs], doing live[streams] on different social media platforms, email campaigns—the switch from in-person to virtual events has inspired us to take advantage of doing things online to reach more people.”

SS4C has also partnered with the local Sierra Club chapter’s Ready for 100 campaign. In 2017, under pressure from Ready for 100, the Sarasota City Commission agreed to the goal of powering all of Sarasota with 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2045. The Commission also voted to power all municipal operations in the city with  at least 50 percent renewable energy by 2024 and 100 percent by 2030. 

Now, SS4C and the Sarasota Ready for 100 Campaign are advocating for the entire county of Sarasota—not just the city—to transition to 100 percent renewable energy. The organizations have implemented and successfully completed two email campaigns aimed at the Sarasota County Commissioner, as well as the Sustainability Director of Sarasota County. 

“We need our local and state elected officials to take the climate crisis seriously and put our counties and state on a path to clean 100 percent renewable energy for all,” the official Sarasota-Manatee campaign page states. “By doing so, we will create a thriving economy based on sunshine while providing a safer and healthier place to live for generations to come.”

SS4C is currently in the process of moving forward with their renewable energy agenda at the county level and the group will be meeting with Sarasota County officials in the coming months to discuss the next steps. The organizations are also continuing to collect signatures on a citizen petition that calls for signers to “convey to candidates and elected officials in Sarasota County, North Port, Venice and the City of Sarasota, that it is time to pass a resolution that establishes time-bound goals to achieve 100 percent clean energy for our entire community no later than 2045.”

 A voter mobilization painting by Mahitha Ramachandran (PVHS 10th grade.) SS4C’s 10/17 art installation centers climate awareness when voting in the 2020 election.

Sarasota Students 4 Climate’s recent advocacy actions continued with a student art installation at Bayfront Park on Saturday, October 17. The installation aimed to encourage voter mobilization in the face of the climate crisis and a tumultuous, hotly-contested election season. 

Mirman, Younis and Dasberg closed the conversation by stressing the importance of student involvement in climate activism both during and beyond COVID-19.

“Don’t worry about not being able to be a team member of a huge activist organization, or being able to consistently participate—even if people are somewhat inclined to contribute to or donate to climate organizations and are able to do so, every little bit counts,” Mirman emphasized. “It’s better to have small actions now that build up rather than waiting until a later time to commit fully. Sarasota Students 4 Climate accepts all kinds of participation, even if it’s just being subscribed to our email newsletter versus being a part of our core team and I know that a lot of activists feel the same way.”

Younis and Dasberg added that quarantine has opened up much more time for students to get involved with their initiatives virtually—time that otherwise might have been taken up by other extracurricular activities or set aside for relaxation after long days spent inside of a classroom.

“Since we have been in isolation for the past months, people have had the time to see what is going on and participation has increased,” Younis explained. “[The climate crisis] has been a problem, but more people have realized that now because they have the time to join in on a team—they are able to do something about the climate crisis now, instead of putting it off.”

More information about Sarasota Students 4 Climate can be found on their linktree and Facebook pages. Follow them on social media for updates and information about getting involved.

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