April 22, 2024, on Yale’s campus was an Earth Day I’ll never forget.

Like many environmentalists, love for our shared earth is central to my core. The wonders of nature have captivated me from a young age. As a student, environmentalism is a calling, not just an academic pursuit. 

Like many environmentalists, I celebrate Earth Day like a national holiday. But on Monday, April 22, while I was occupying College Street, linking arms in solidarity with fellow protestors, and demanding that Yale divest from war, my relationship to Earth Day was challenged. While the effects of climate change are surely felt across the world every day, when dear friends and classmates were being loaded into Yale Shuttles, global injustice — and local injustice — was thrust into my life, eclipsing my usual Earth Day traditions. 

Instead of wearing all green and texting “Happy Earth Day!” in every group chat, I found myself outside the Schwarzman Center at 6:45 a.m., drawing chalk on my knees, and helping organize food for a protest confronting Yale’s investment practices. 

I am the co-president of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, and for weeks, we had been planning an Earth Day action as part of the national Reclaim Earth Day movement happening on campuses across the nation and the world. But as we covered the Prospect intersection with statements in support of the civilians being killed in Palestine, mobilization for another movement felt tone-deaf and ineffective. For the first time on Earth Day, I thought very little about the climate and far more about the 34,000 lives, predominantly women and children, caught in the bloody quagmire. 

Recently, I was able to hear from Ayisha Siddiqa, a Pakistani-American and tribal Pakistani global justice activist, who occupied Beinecke Plaza in solidarity on Friday night. She spoke to the connections between climate and conflict, and how many environmentalists find their way into the fight for Palestine through concern for the war-torn ground or the 281,000 tons of carbon dioxide generated by the first two months of the Israel-Hamas war beginning on Oct. 7.  

While these are important impacts, the loss of life is not the same as the loss of soil. 

This conflict is one without unambiguous answers. While attending the protests, I certainly grappled with my own thoughts and feelings. But amidst all of the confusion, at least one thing is certain: loss of innocent life is unacceptable, and Yale should not be profiting from it. Despite its mischaracterization by the Yale administration and by the media, the #occupyyale movement demands the University disclose its investments, divest from the weapons manufacturing and reinvest in New Haven. 

How do we enter into these tumultuous times as environmentalists and human rights advocates? What connections exist between environmentalism and the movement for freedom in Palestine? What can the environmental movement learn from the mobilization that has rocked our campus?

The moments from this week that stick out to me were those in which we spoke and sang with one voice — a voice that could be heard from blocks away. Four of my favorite chants from this weekend give me clarity to the question of what it means to fight for the Earth in the middle of such a conflict. 

“Arab blood isn’t cheap, for our martyrs we will weep.”

No human being, no animal, no plant can be relegated to a “sacrifice zone.” Whether Black and Brown communities disproportionately affected by sea level rise and poor air quality or civilians suffering in the Gaza Strip, it is unconscionable that any group is treated as unworthy of basic living standards and human rights. From the U.S. federal government to the Yale administration, everyone who is complicit in atrocities is responsible for them. Each drop of blood is priceless, and as an environmentalist, I stand with Gazan civilians. 

“In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.” 

This chant reminds us that every life is connected and we are not alone in the fight for justice. As environmentalists, we are acutely aware of the tether that binds an individual to every other living being. It’s a connection we feel when we read reports of Bangladeshis pummeled by floodwaters and island nations suffering the loss of protective barrier corals. We feel it when we watch the Amazon rainforest burn. And over the weekend, I felt it while we chanted in the streets. I was inspired by Zachary Herring of Jewish Voices for Peace, who reminded us that “it’s the violence we are protesting, not one another.” Whether threatened by environmental damage or hostile attackers, no one is free until we all are free.

“Who keeps us safe? We keep us safe.”

During this movement, I have been stunned by the outpouring of love and kindness from organizers, allies and strangers. While there have been discouraging reports of a few individual protestors taunting students, everyone I interacted with has led with love — creative love. Over the weekend, well-trained, veteran organizers encouraged us to lock arms, protecting those occupying Beinecke Plaza. Through call and response, they communicated vital information to keep protestors calm, energized and safe. On Monday morning, trays of warm, buttery French toast appeared out of thin air along with coffee, bagels, sunscreen, chapstick, chalk and more. The Yale Student Environmental Coalition was able to order dozens of pizzas for lunch along with fifteen rotisserie chickens for Passover Seder, which just added to a day-long flow of food from energized and caring members of our community. The deep love given by strangers helped build a fortified community where every person kept every other safe. 

“Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.” 

At 6:45 Monday morning, I watched 48 of my friends and classmates be arrested for standing up for human rights. 

By 8:00, we had taken over the College Street intersection, w​​hich we held — peacefully — all day.

We shall not be moved. 

ROSE HANSEN is an Environmental Studies and Humanities major in Benjamin Franklin and co-president of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. Contact Rose at rose.hansen@yale.edu.