Kinship and the common good at the climate strike

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UConn students march down Fairfield Way. The climate strike took place on Friday, September 20.  Photos by Charlotte Lao / The Daily Campus.

UConn students march down Fairfield Way. The climate strike took place on Friday, September 20. Photos by Charlotte Lao / The Daily Campus.

One of my favorite pieces of writing is a George Orwell essay titled: “Can Socialists Be Happy?” In the essay, written in the midst of World War II, Orwell disputes the notion that socialists fight for utopia. In his words: “Men use up their lives in heart-breaking political struggles, or get themselves killed in civil wars, or tortured in the secret prisons of the Gestapo, not in order to establish some central-heated, air-conditioned, strip-lighted Paradise, but because they want a world in which human beings love one another instead of swindling and murdering one another.” 

Socialism is a dirty word in America. But whether or not you consider yourself a socialist, Orwell’s conception of socialism is a powerful concept. From the moment I read that essay, I’ve looked forward to the day when I could truly feel the warmth and kinship of being surrounded by warriors in the fight for the common good. I’ve just never felt it.  

Until Friday’s climate strike. 

As photos of the global climate strike flooded in from Kenya, Iran, Chile, Uganda and hundreds of other places, I felt Orwell’s idea of the common good deep in my bones. At UConn, after months of organizing and movement-building, hundreds of students joined together to march on President Katsouleas’ office. We came together on Friday to take the fight to our President’s doorstep, where he agreed to act in good faith to address our demands.  

And, perhaps most importantly, we laid the groundwork for a movement which will extend far beyond Friday’s strike. As was stated outside Gulley Hall, we do not plan on accepting anything less than bold climate action. If the University does not respond adequately, we will begin holding sit-ins at the President’s office in two weeks. We will not be satisfied with platitudes and promises. We demand action, and we plan on taking matters into our own hands to ensure our demands are met.  

The UConn climate strike was a non-partisan event. But on Friday, we were all Orwellian socialists — bonded together by a belief that inaction is unacceptable, that climate justice should be a priority, that transferring real power to all students on campus is a necessity and that these goals can only be accomplished with the common good in mind. When we stood outside Gulley Hall on Friday, we were bonded together by our belief that climate change can be stopped — but only if we embrace a world in which we love each other instead of swindling and murdering each other.   

Our bond gives me hope, because the alternative to kinship and belief in the common good is ugly. As climate change continues to wreak havoc on the world, particularly in the global south, refugees from poor countries will begin flooding into richer countries. Governments will have to make a choice between closed borders and xenophobia or open arms and compassion. They will have to decide between nationalism and the common good.  

The solidarity on display Friday, from Gulley Hall to Guinea, gives me hope that we’ll choose compassion. It gives me hope that our generation will build new systems of energy, transit, housing, immigration, healthcare and food around the principles of climate justice. It gives me hope that we can overcome the negligence of generations of rich and powerful men who cared more about profit than the survival of our species.  

Friday was just the beginning. We will continue to build, organize and disrupt until our demands are met — at UConn, in Connecticut, in the United States and across the world.  

The fight for climate justice is the defining fight of our generation, and organizing our collective power is the only way to ensure the common good will prevail. 


Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at harry.zehner@uconn.edu.

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