New voices heard on climate change action in Schenectady (with 20-photo gallery)

Climate change activists march down Jay Street during the Schenectady March for Climate rally Saturday beginning and ending at city hall.

Climate change activists march down Jay Street during the Schenectady March for Climate rally Saturday beginning and ending at city hall.

SCHENECTADY What started as an idea between roommates during COVID-19 lockdown evolved into a rally, a march and then a voice mail message to the governor’s office voiced by more than 150 people assembled in front of Schenectady City Hall Saturday afternoon.

Schenectady March for Climate co-organizers Matt Curiano and Lexi Rabadi were extremely pleased with the turnout on the day after Earth Day.

“Not only am I overwhelmed by the amount of people, but the investment level of each person,” Rabadi, a Guilderland High School graduate, said. “There were so many signs, picturing these folks at home the night before making these signs and gearing up for this day and being excited about it.”

Saturday’s event marked the first time in 15 years that the city had hosted an event around Earth Day and climate change. Curiano and Rabadi wanted to change that.

“We’re just two annoying roommates that make our other roommates follow all these rules and we really hold ourselves and our friends accountable,” Rabadi said. “Then we had this idea of what if we organized a climate march?”

[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”40″ display=”basic_imagebrowser”]The afternoon brought together community action organizations Progressive Schenectady, Green Sanctuary, Mothers Out Front, Citizen Action, the First Reformed Church of Schenectady, U Sustain of Union College, Soul Fire Farms, Rivers and Mountains GreenFaith Circle, the Buddhist Action Coalition, Union College students, and two pairs of students from both Niskayuna and Schenectady high schools.

Curiano, a Schalmont High School grad, was the event’s emcee. He was enthusiastic as he introduced each speaker, thanked participants and took advantage of the throng of Union College students on site, leading them in climate change cheers.

“Like a beacon of hope they came like a movie just walking onto the streets,” Curiano said about the college students’ entrance moments before the noon start time. “They came and then a bunch more people came. It was just really, really powerful.”

Curiano relied on Niskayuna students Olivia Girolami and Rachel Wheeler along with Schenectady’s Anayia Fernandez and Alexandria Morin to share their youthful messages.

“This is something that students should be at the forefront of,” Curiano said. “When students speak, people can’t help themselves but listen.”

Wheeler talked about technology available to measure the water levels in the Mohawk River at the Stockade to alert the community during rainfall events.

“Everybody has been to the Stockade, everybody loves the Stockade, it’s beautiful there,” Wheeler said. “Pointing out a problem will hopefully lead to fixing it. The mayor is here, hopefully he’ll hear that and maybe I’ll put that on the back of his mind.”

Girolami has become a pro-environmental advocate during her senior year of high school.

“I am not big into nature, hiking, dirt, bugs, none of it, but for some reason I feel this real pull to the environment,” Girolami said. “The need to protect it because it’s so important. I feel it down in my heart that this is something that anyone can change, anyone can help protect it. I might be one person, but I genuinely believe I will be able to do something and I want to be able to start now.”

Schenectady High School environmental science teacher Jen Insull invited Curiano to talk to her classes via a Google Meet. Fernandez and Morin embraced the opportunity to speak to the assembled crowd.

On Saturday, Fernandez said she hopes to see change within the high school.

“I hope for more students to become aware, want change and know that our earth is something that we have to protect,” Fernandez said. “We don’t get a ‘Planet B’ like Ms. Insull always says. I hope to just inform more people and want people to be on board.”

Morin hoped that more Schenectady classmates attended Saturday’s event.

“I feel like more people could definitely be here, but I feel like a lot of people aren’t educated about climate change or climate justice,” the Schenectady senior said. “I feel like a lot of it’s unknown but I definitely would’ve liked to see more people here.”

Morin’s education about climate has factored into her upcoming college choice.

“I want to study environmental science,” Morin said. “I want to be able to have people no matter where I go to support what’s going on with the environment.”

Once the speeches were completed, the assembled throng marched down Jay Street onto State Street before turning left and completing the march down Franklin Street returning to the city hall steps.

Curiano capped the afternoon with an en masse call to action to the New York State Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. He gave out the number several times to the crowd, asking them to call and voice support of the state’s 12 pending climate bills.

Curiano himself was able to reach Hochul’s voicemail from the podium, using his speaker phone function to have the crowd cheer on his request at the event.

We attended the ‘Climate Can’t Wait’ rally in Albany yesterday and they made those calls there,” Curiano said. “I called, I wanted to call. They definitely heard us.”

“We had the idea for a while that we wanted people to be able to leave having taken action at the march,” Rabadi said. “When Matt went to the march yesterday, he said this is by far the most impactful way to do this.”

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