Filled with hundreds of concerned citizens bustling around chatting with one another before the Mayor’s gavel echoed throughout the room, Flagstaff’s City Council chambers radiated hope on a chilly Tuesday evening. Despite their diverse backgrounds, they stood unified in a government building all bearing bright orange felt squares fixed to their sweaters with a safety pin. This aberrant liveliness of the often-desolate chambers can be attributed to an agenda item which read, “Citizen Petition: Declare a Climate Emergency.”
After planning the city of Flagstaff’s participation in the Global Climate Strike on September 20, 2019, a group of Flagstaff residents (including myself) were determined to continue fighting for climate action in their small mountain town with a dwindling Ponderosa pine tree population. On this worldwide day of action, Flagstaff community member Joe Shannon brought a petition for our environmentalist attendees to sign. This petition expressed a desire for Flagstaff to tell the truth about the climate crisis by declaring a climate emergency. The petition also included the restructuring of Flagstaff’s city government in a manner that prioritizes their office of sustainability. In only two hours and with one clipboard, roughly 250 residents signed the petition, proving a commitment to holding the city accountable to their promised action on climate change.
With this petition, the organizing group was granted a slot on October 15th, 2019 by our city council-members’ majority vote to be on a regular meeting agenda for January 28th, 2020. The path ahead was clear for our group of volunteer activists: we had a lot of work to do if we wanted to enact this level of change. We first recognized the power of our community: 1,800 of them left their responsibilities on a Friday afternoon to gather on the worn-out grass in front of Flagstaff City Hall in solidarity with a global movement started by a teenager. Mobilizing them further was the key to pressuring our decision makers to prioritize action on the climate crisis. So, we organized them according to their roles as stakeholders in our planet: parents and grandparents, youth, farmers, scientists, and more.
At the city council meeting on January 28, 2020, roughly 250 organized community members detailed the local concerns about the climate crisis and provided their reasoning for declaring a climate emergency — for three hours.
The Arizona Daily Sun and the student-run newspaper at Northern Arizona University captured a few wonderful comments in the reporting of this historic night from our lively community:
“You, city council, can be that long term catalyst that benefits our future, our environment. I urge you to act now, not when we are in the middle of a devastating disaster, a devastating natural disaster that can be prevented right now,”
– Nikki Cooley, Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals (ITEP)
“We, as young people, recognize the severity of the climate crisis and strongly support further action beyond the currently implemented Climate Action Plan. While we appreciate Flagstaff’s progressive policies, we urge Flagstaff City Council to revise the current Climate Action Plan and announce a climate emergency, which requires urgent attention and action.”
– Mayan Cohen, senior at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy
“I feel hopeful because people here are grounded and connected to nature, and I can look around and see the possibility of transformation to a zero-carbon economy. I am here before you today to declare a climate emergency and to direct staff to elevate the goals of the Climate Action Plan to carbon neutrality by 2030.”
– Dara Marks-Marino, member of the organizing group (and ITEP)
The energy in that room was unparalleled, it’s the feeling that maintains this fight (or, that collective effervescence thing Durkheim was on about). I would argue that it is this energy which moved Flagstaff to make a unanimous vote in favor of declaring a climate emergency, with statements of support and commitment to action from each council member.