For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, organizers and activists pivoted from massive in-person strikes to online livestreams and events. The US Climate Strike Coalition and Stop the Money Pipeline Coalition hosted Earth Day Live, a three-day livestream from April 22 to April 24. Over the three days, organizers uplifted the voices and stories of youth, POC and Indigenous climate activists, called for divestment and promoted voter registration.

More locally, Sunrise Chicago held a series of events on April 22. Sunrise Chicago is the Chicago hub for the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led organization that aims to stop the climate crisis while creating jobs. Weinberg junior Keerti Gopal, a member of Sunrise Chicago and one of the co-founders of Northwestern Sunrise, helped plan the virtual Earth Day events.

Throughout the day, Sunrise Chicago posted art and banners supporting causes like the Green New Deal, showed livestreams and co-hosted a town hall, which touched on issues including environmental racism, the COVID-19 crisis, empowering students, what a just and equitable future looks like and more.

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Yesterday was incredible. Months ago, we had a plan for Earth Day that involved joining thousands of people in the streets and striking for a livable future. Those plans had to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we had to figure out how to still have a powerful Earth Day while social distancing. Luckily, we were able to do just that. Sunrisers across the city dropped banners and displayed beautiful art, showcasing our message. The Earth Day to May Day coalition put on an inspiring, virtual town hall where Chicagoans across the city were able to talk about their experiences and why we need environmental justice NOW. We finished the day with a collective action call, where forty of us contacted our representatives about local environmental injustices and why we need a People's Bailout. We are so inspired by everyone who took action yesterday and we can't wait to keep fighting for a Green New Deal with all of you! Ready to join us in the fight for a livable future? Sign up for our next virtual hub meeting on May 6th at 6:00pm! We're going to be discussing next steps on how to build on this momentum after Earth Day and our plan moving forward! We hope to see you there.

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The night ended with a collective action call over Zoom where participants reached out to local representatives about issues ranging from the People’s Bailout, an effort to increase protections and relief packages for everyone affected by COVID-19, to the Green New Deal. For Gopal, this was particularly impactful.

“We’re all sitting at home in this pandemic, and it can feel kind of isolating, and it can feel hard to build power and momentum and feel like you can make a difference, but I think it was really exciting to see so many people logging on from their homes in the evening on a Wednesday night and being excited to call and take action on really local issues that are happening right now,” Gopal said.

Other Northwestern students joined Sunrise Chicago’s collective action call, including Communication senior Holly Hinchliffe. Although Hinchliffe isn’t part of the Sunrise Movement, she decided to take part in the Zoom call after hearing about it from Gopal and through social media channels.

Hinchliffe found the Chicago Sunrise’s collective action call helpful because the organization gave participants specific email and phone call templates when contacting officials.

“It’s easy to say we have to make a change, and I think it’s hard to know what that actually looks like sometimes, so it’s really helpful to have supportive community and young people who have knowledge in a lot of different areas who can help organize passionate people around the cause and provide the right information,” she said.

In the past, Hinchliffe attended a climate march in Chicago, but she said the online event fostered a different type of collaboration since she could sit with everyone there instead of staying among a group of friends. What stood out to her was how supportive everyone was, whether it was sending messages through Zoom’s chat function or just answering each other’s questions.

While the COVID-19 crisis may have moved Earth Day events and strikes online, students found  there was still momentum and support for environmental and political issues.

“In the past weeks leading up to Earth Day, there’s been so much energy from people. I feel so energized from people who are still trying to take action,” Gopal said. “There’s definitely been a transition, but things have not really slowed down, which I think has been really inspiring to see.”