Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer

Outside of City Hall last Thursday, local activists and Mayor Justin Elicker offered remarks, performances and petitions advocating for action on climate change. 

The New Haven Peace Commission started planning for Thursday’s Earth Day rally in December and held regular meetings to discuss logistics. The Commission pooled together a lineup of speakers including activists from the Sunrise Movement, Ice the Beef and the New Haven Climate Movement, among others. The final program also included an African dance performance, a poem from a student at New Haven Public Schools and a musical performance by a member of the Peace Commission. 

Speakers focused on advancing climate change mitigation policies, as well as pressuring Connecticut’s Congressional delegation to defund the United States’ military. 

“Hundreds of millions of dollars goes into the military for military weapons that go overseas, that do not focus on us,” said Johanyx Rodriguez, a senior at High School in the Community and the rally’s master of ceremonies. “And that money should be focused on how we can better help our country and how we can solve… climate change and a bunch of other local problems.”

Those gathered left behind messages in chalk on the pavement outside of City Hall. (Photo: Christian Robles, Contributing Reporter)

In November, New Haven voters approved a ballot referendum asking Congress to transfer funds away from the US military budget to “prepare for health and climate crises.” The referendum garnered the support of 82 percent of New Haveners. Rodriguez told the News that the Earth Day rally was a “public expression” for the ballot referendum. Other speakers also expressed their support for the referendum and spoke about the link between climate change and militarism. 

Henry Lowendorf, co-chair of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, told community members that military funds should be diverted to spending on housing, healthcare and climate action. He said that $350 billion — less than half of the military budget in the 2021 fiscal year — could be spent on providing healthcare to one million veterans, installing solar panels in 10 million US homes, implementing wind energy in 10 US million houses and providing one million college students with four-year scholarships. Lowendorf also circulated a petition at the rally which calls on the Connecticut’s federal representatives to implement the New Haven referendum.

Adrian Huq, co-founder of the New Haven Climate Movement Youth Action team, echoed Lowendorf’s sentiments. They argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that US budget priorities have left the country “woefully unprepared” to address climate change, as well as other public health and economic crises. Huq called to reallocate military funds towards realizing a Green New Deal, a non-binding Congressional resolution that outlines climate priorities.

Mayor Elicker also appeared on Thursday to express his support for the aggressive climate change action.

“We have so much more work to do, especially because of the goals that New Haven has laid out for its climate impact,” Elicker said. “I am grateful for your support, grateful to the organizers today and looking forward to that partnership with you all in the future to address so many environmental crises.”

Elicker praised the Biden administration for rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, a slate of climate change goals that a majority of countries agreed to in 2015. He added that New Haven is also taking climate action on the local level through its Climate Emergency Mobilization Task Force — a committee of New Haven residents and elected officials who work with the community to end local greenhouse gas emissions by Dec. 31, 2030.

Rally-goers received petitions to sign, chalk for writing messages on the ground and flyers for other climate-related events. The Peace Commission invited youth to attend another climate rally on May 15 at 3 p.m. at the City Hall Amistad Statue.

President Joe Biden has proposed a $753 billion military budget for fiscal year 2022, a $13 billion increase from the previous year’s budget.

Correction, Apr. 27: An earlier version of this story spelled Huq’s name as “Huck” and referred to them with she/her/hers pronouns. In fact, Huq uses they/them/theirs pronouns. The News regrets the errors.

Christian Robles was a public editor, city desk editor, and education & youth services beat reporter. He graduated from Yale in 2023 with a degree in Political Science and as an education studies scholar.