Alice Hu

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Alice Hu  00:08

Even though climate change is very existentially stressful, there’s a huge cognitive dissonance, right? People will be thinking about, well how can I make enough money so I can retire with the amount of wealth that I want? While also knowing logically that, okay, yeah, but like, by the time I’m at retirement age, what’s the world even gonna look like? You know, what am I even saving for?

Eli Gitter-Dentz  00:52

Alice Hu is a climate campaigner for the organization, New York Communities for Change. We spoke with Alice on February 3 2023. I’m Eli Gitter-Dentz. I’m a junior at Hunter College High School.

Marie Fadeyeva  00:57

And I’m Marie, I share pronouns. I’m a junior at Columbia. I was born in Russia, but now this is my third year in New York City and I’m really happy to be here.

Alice Hu  01:09

Great, it’s so nice to meet you guys. My name is Alice Hu, I used she/her pronouns. I grew up mostly in central Illinois. I then went to Columbia, where I studied sociology. I’ve been in New York since then. So I’m really excited today to have our discussion.

Eli Gitter-Dentz  01:32

Yeah, we’re really excited too. So you’re a climate campaigner for New York Communities for Change. And can you tell us a little about how you got involved, and the work that you do?

Alice Hu  01:44

Yeah, so I have been really interested in climate change for a while now. Like many young people like us in this room right now, this is something that I know is going to directly impact my present and also my future. And it’s something that many young people naturally are very concerned about. 

Not just having young people, of course. But it definitely for me, part of the reason that I was initially very compelled to work specifically on the issue of climate was because I was thinking, at age 19, age 20, age 21, wow, like, [when I’m] even age 35 or 40, you know, which is not that old, it’s not that far away, you know, the world might look very, very differently.

The world might be much worse, and a much more dangerous place to live in, a much more uninhabitable place to live. 

So, you know, naturally there is this very personal element to it.

But I also think the story starts even before then. I think I mentioned, you know, even in high school, I got the great opportunity to be able to speak to folks, for example, who were very involved in the 60s and the social movements of the 60s, the civil rights movement, the anti war movement, all of these kinds of things. 

And I was also very interested while I was in high school of researching other social movements as well, for example, in the 80s, with the AIDS epidemic, and I was got the chance to speak to folks and also just do a lot of research around how was that you know, this very marginalized group of people like, you know, queer people who at the time were even more marginalized than maybe they are today. You know, how do they go from getting this issue which nobody was talking about while they were dying, you know, en masse, how do they go from that and make it into this issue that eventually, albeit a bit too late, but, you know, eventually, the government has to respond to, right? 

So I was very interested and it was kind of like an initial awakening of me because I think growing up, I often felt very disempowered. You know, not only are you young but maybe you’re growing up and in context or settings where you feel like oh, like, I don’t have much control over my life. I don’t have much control over what the world is gonna look like, or what it currently looks like. 

And I think in college, I did some student activism around some labor issues on Columbia’s campus. I also got the chance to do different organizing at different nonprofits or organizations or contexts across the city. 

And I got to just sample different kinds of organizing work, different kinds of campaigning work. It’s very interesting to me, like I said, it kind of confirmed my suspicion that this was a really powerful way to be empowered.

Marie Fadeyeva  04:31

Yeah, thank you so much for that answer. It’s really useful that you framed it in the context of Columbia, it’s really relevant to me since I’m a student there too. And I’m sitting there right now. And I really connected to what you said about feeling disempowered when you’re a younger person. Um, it was mentioned that you were our first generation Chinese American, right? And I’m a first generation college student and a low income college student. 

And I’m just really interested in like, what you think about I think it’s a very unique experience going to college as like first generation college students, and or low income student and I guess, what was your experience as a student activist and how do you bring like intersectionality to your activism when you were a student?

Alice Hu  05:14

Yeah, I think in a very real way, when you also have to do work study, when you also have to work outside of just your classes, and your clubs and whatever other sort of college engagements that college students have, obviously, that did mean that I had less time to dedicate to potentially, you know, making money or to doing my classwork or engage in the different clubs that I was in. 

So, I think there’s that very real reality which obviously doesn’t just end in college. Afterwards people need to make a living, people need money, and that’s especially true if, if you’re either entering into debt because of school, or you have to pay for your family members, to support other people beyond just yourself. 

So, I think as a starting point, I think that definitely you have to consider, we all have to make realistic choices for ourselves. 

And if if spending a lot of time doing activism is not feasible for you, or deciding to become a paid staff organizer or activist is not something that is feasible for you, either monetarily or maybe just because, you have a strong desire to be a doctor or you have a passion to be a teacher or a software engineer or whatever. 

Like, you know, I definitely don’t think you should abandon those passions. Or try making a living when, you know, it’s maybe financially not as feasible to make a living out of this.

So that’s the first thing I want to say. 

I think the main takeaway I want out of this podcast is not so much that everybody needs to be a paid activist, or that the world needs millions and millions of paid activists. I don’t think that’s very realistic, and I don’t think that’s the message I should be pushing. 

But I think that it is important still to think about what different kinds of empowerment and what different kinds of making an impact could look like 

I think, you know, young, bright students are naturally very ambitious. But I think like there’s just convention, there’s ways beyond the conventional or prestigious ways of thinking about power and how to have a big impact. 

You know, when we think about having a big impact, there’s a lot of jobs that people usually come to think about, especially in you know, elite academic environments, such as Columbia or Hunter College High School like It’s like there’s, you know, people probably think a lot about maybe being in elected office one day or an influential lobbyist or maybe, you know, you’re climbing up the ranks of some big company or important company or maybe you’re like, I don’t know, starting your own company to solve some problem or you’re working as a lawyer for like, powerful governments or companies, and I think it’s undeniable that those things all would have you make big impact on the world. I’m not denying that. 

I also think you’d probably enjoy a lot of prestige while doing it, and you’d also probably rake in a pretty handsome paycheck while doing that too. 

None of those things I’m denying. But I think the thing about the climate crisis, when I think about the contours of the problem, is that in order to really fight it, we need to end fossil fuels. We need to end deforestation. We need to stop, you know, the destruction of nature. 

That’s just the reality of the climate crisis, right? 

And all of those things I just said, fossil fuels, deforestation, they’re driven right now by powerful governments, by businesses, and they’re also driven by profit motives, unfortunately. 

And I think that’s kind of where my work comes in, both in college, in the little ways that I did in college, like trying to have an influence from being a student activist and trying to have a voice from outside the administration. Or now in a bit more of a big way, in terms of trying to have a sort of outside voice or outside pressure when it comes to, you know, trying to get big governments or big companies to change. 

The kind of thing I focus on is really helping build the climate movement, which is, in my mind, like a movement of lots of different kinds of normal people, who can collectively make strategic decisions to push on the right kinds of levers that we need to push on in order to have the decarbonisation that we need, in order to move the big amounts of money and the government mandates that we need to decarbonize and have a just transition and all that fun stuff. 

So, basically, I said all that, because I think it illustrates the ways in which working within the system, doing this kind of insider work is not 100% going to solve the problem.

And I also think about other, you know, big problems and injustice that people are faced, for example, with the civil rights movement, people like to focus in history, maybe on the Lyndon B. Johnson’s who signed these big pieces of legislation into law, but I think in reality, you can’t forget the civil rights movement. 

You can’t forget all the numerous, mostly unnamed people who really pressured decision makers like LBJ into making those decisions that LBJ had the power to make, who challenged the status quo and who created the set of political conditions that made it much easier for LBJ to do something like signed the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act or whatever. 

So I think that’s just an analogy from different kinds of movement and different kinds of problems. But I guess to just wrap it all up, I think, to young people who are very anxious about climate change, who are very bright, and ambitious, and who want to make a big difference in this fight one sometimes overlooked Avenue but I want to make sure isn’t as overlooked is doing this outsider work.

Eli Gitter-Dentz  10:59

Yeah, you mentioned that the climate movement is made up of normal people. So what does it look like for aspiring doctors and lawyers to contribute to the movement when it’s not the focus of their careers?

Alice Hu  11:13

I’m not trying to come on here and say everybody needs to have my job. I think people have different talents and skills. Nobody should ever have me be their doctor. Nor do I think necessarily everybody would be 100% good at the kinds of things that I like doing. So what I’m urging people to do is to take stock of their life, take stock of like the amount of time and energy that you have to contribute to other things, even if it’s not going to be their full time job or their main career path, and to consider the ways in which either they can use their existing skills to support activists, to support protesters. 

But even beyond using your professional skills towards outsider pressure, I think people should also just take stock for the free time that they have and consider if they have any excess energy or resources that they could devote to doing the stuff outside of their chosen career. 

Marie Fadeyeva  12:11

Yeah, for sure, I’m really glad that you talked about this. It is definitely very relevant for myself, and I’m sure Eli too, since I’m about to graduate college and Eli’s about to graduate high school. 

And I’m also wondering, just a little bit about some more details about work that you do. For example, your billionaire wake-up call. I personally have never been to the Hamptons, so I don’t really know what it’s like to be there. Could you maybe tell me about your experience? Like being a part of that specific instance of protests and what it’s like to be there and if you ever maybe interacted with a high profile individual who either works at a company that directly contributes to the climate crisis, or is themselves financially funding something like that?

Alice Hu  12:57

Yeah, totally. I’ll do your question in piecemeal. So I think, in terms of the Hamptons to kind of describe it. my cheeky way of saying it is basically the Hamptons is a place that the kinds of people go who use summering as a verb. 

But basically it’s this tourist resort place. It’s been for a long time, for people who are trying to escape New York City. You know, predominantly people who are trying to escape New York City or other East Coast cities. Who want a nice, relaxed, pretty, beach side place to enjoy their summers. It’s a lot cooler there than it is in New York City. Like we were, we were in a heatwave here in New York City in the summer, and then when we left the Hamptons, it was like 60 degrees every day, very pleasant. So, you know, I think it’s that kind of place. 

There are many people who live in the Hamptons, this is their full time location, that’s just where they live. And those are not the kinds of people that we’re trying to target with these Hamptons protests. But it’s the people who have their second homes, third homes or their vacation homes, in the Hamptons, those are the kinds of people that we target with this, ultra wealthy people. 

Many protests are what we call direct action, which is basically, sometimes you’re using your body in a direct way to either block something or let’s say your work or you decide to go on strike, that’s a form of direct action, because you’re using the power you already have to directly influence an outcome, which is in opposition to other kinds of protests, like a rally for example, where you’re more just calling on somebody else to make a decision or to to use their power to do something. 

Anyway, so the kinds of direct action that we were doing out in the Hamptons were really great. We not only did the wake up call at these billionaires’ houses, billionaires who are big financiers of fossil fuels in addition to other sleazy things like buying up properties and jacking up rents for people around the world. 

We also did in the Hamptons an airport blockade, of the airport there, where all these people go and, they’re like mega polluting flights because you could literally just drive from the Hamptons to New York City in two or three hours but they don’t want to be stuck in traffic, right? So they’re taking these super polluting private jet flights between New York City and the Hamptons. 

I guess also there’s just an element of, this is not a normal thing to do. If you look even at Columbia, for example, we had a rally on the Low steps, which is not a particularly crazy thing to do. I feel like there’s like a protest there once a week, for some cause or another. So it’s not particularly a crazy thing to do. But still, when you’re the one doing it, you’re kind of aware of oh, this is kind of like, this is not something that people do, like normal people don’t go out there and start screaming at everybody that’s walking by saying listen to me about this or that. So you know, it’s just kind of fun, in my opinion, it’s kind of fun for me. To break out of like an otherwise very humdrum sort of day. What was the last part of the question? Sorry, I’ve kind of gotten away with just talking about how fun it is now.

Marie Fadeyeva  16:03

Oh, no problem. No, thank you so much for sharing. I was also wondering if you yourself had personally interacted one on one with an individual who was like specifically financing the climate crisis?

Alice Hu  16:12

Yeah, one kind of protest that we actually do a lot is called a bird dog. I don’t actually know the etymology of bird dog. I don’t know where it comes from. But you know, it’s one you know, a politician or sort of otherwise notable person like, let’s say, executive of a company that you’re trying to move. You know they’re going to be in a public place. So you show up there, and sometimes you get the chance to speak with them. Like we do this a lot at New York Communities for Change with the governor, because a lot of our policies and the things we’re fighting for are on the state level and she’s obviously one of the key decision makers in the state. 

We also do this sometimes with conferences, where we know that let’s say, BlackRock, this just happened last week, we found out that the BlackRock president, his name is Robert Kapito, we found out Kapito was going to be speaking at this conference in New York City, at some hotel in Tribeca. 

We found out he was to be speaking there. And we kind of just snuck in and then we interrupted in the middle of his speech. And, in this case, I don’t know if there was actually interaction because he kind of just stood there, he didn’t really want to engage with us. But there have been other instances where the famous people do actually engage with you. Especially if you’re just walking in front of the governor and you ask her, hey, you know, Governor Hochul, will you commit to like, blah, blah, blah, you know, we oftentimes will do this. And, you know, you make sure that your friend is filming you and  that way you get it on the record. 

So, yeah, I think that’s one kind of protest we do a lot,  actually. It’s a pretty effective form of protest. Because, you know, these people are people at the end of the day. I can only imagine I would get rattled if people were constantly finding me at different public events I was at, and like yelling at me or interrupting the speeches that I was giving. 

Actually, I wouldn’t be remiss without mentioning probably the most viral time I did this, which was last fall at a time when I was running this campaign to get ABC News to cover climate change more. 

The View is their morning talk show, they have this live audience. When you’re watching these TV shows, and they have people laughing in the background or whatever, like you can just apparently book tickets for free, they don’t really do much of a background check or anything on you. 

And we just got these tickets to go in and then we interrupted the middle of the show. When you know they’re obviously live broadcasting to millions of people. We initially conceived it to be honest to be more of the way to get the company to, because we started yelling cover climate now, cover climate now, and I said that thing about how they needed to cover climate change more, how it’s their journalistic duty to do so. 

And honestly, it was initially kind of conceptualized just as a way to get the company to move more and maybe win some social media points, get the company to take a hit in their reputation. 

But then we realized that Ted Cruz is going to be a coming guest, so we were like, we definitely want to do it while he’s there. 

And it kind of blew up this massive story actually. It was covered by a bunch of national, international press. I think the New York sorry, the Washington Post covered it, The Guardian covered it. You know, and all these like smaller regional and local papers also covered it. CNN covered it, SNL did a skit based off of it. 

So it kind of got really, really viral, because then we ended up interrupting Ted Cruz’s speech and because Ted Cruz is such a polarizing figure, such a public figure, you know, it kind of got to a bigger, And he engaged with us, Whoopi Goldberg, one of the main anchors, engaged with us. And it was kind of this thing that we didn’t expect to go that viral. But when we saw Ted Cruz was there, we got to try it because, you know, this is a guy that could win us a lot of media attention. And he did.

And so I think it’s that’s usually the instance in which I’m engaging with famous people and horrible people. There are times when you know, you’ve run a good enough campaign and so you reach out saying hey, like I’m one of running the campaign and they agree to actually have a meeting with you. 

Or, you know, I will start lobbying work where you know, you’re you kind of have a polite conversation with someone, you’re not doing this kind of stuff. But I think the most exciting times are when you’re engaging with people in this way because I think, again, it kind of speaks to my point about outsider pressure. It’s a different kind of way of putting pressure on them.

Eli Gitter-Dentz  20:45

I wanted to circle back to the New York Times article about the Hamptons protests, because there was an image at the end of the article that really struck me. It was an image of this sign you left outside of Stephen Schwarzman’s front gate. And I think it was an image of his face, and it said wanted for debts to society. It’s propped up by two pitchforks. 

I’m curious, obviously, like facts and numbers are important in your campaigns to convince people. But how do you also mix in clever word play, imagery, a little bit of humor? How do you balance that to convince people?

Alice Hu  21:30

Totally. I think that’s actually maybe arguably the more important part. I mean, you don’t want to straight up lie to people. Everything that I try to do is fact based and it’s based on not just facts about the science of climate change, for example, but also about, you know, my understanding of what is just and what’s moral and all these other things, too. 

But at the end of the day, I do think arguably the more important part when it comes to this kind of public campaigning is actually the slogans and the imagery and the sort of witty wordplay. That’s the kind of thing that sticks in people’s minds more and that’s the kind of thing that galvanizes more people. 

It’s a lot more compelling to hear either somebody’s personal story, to hear some zingy, sort of cool sounding slogan, a rousing speech than it is to listen to a lecture for 15 minutes about all the financing that Blackrock does, and this or that, or that Citibank does, and this or that, you know, so I do think that people ultimately function more based on seeing a cool thing or hearing a cool thing. So that’s a big part of the protest work that I like doing. 

The pitchforks were kind of cheeky. I mean they’re plastic pitchforks from a costume shop. But the fact that we were wielding these completely fake pitchforks was kind of very jarring, I guess, to people in the Hamptons. And we also did it for a series of protests we did this fall called Occupy Park Avenue, where we also did things like going up to billionaire’s properties and going into, blocking streets and blocking headquarter entrances and stuff like that of the companies, and sometimes people come up to you like, one person like tapped it, so like, is this real? 

Obviously it’s completely non violent and they’re like, you know, fake plastic pitchforks. But I do think that the imagery of it, and also when you’re in person, like, if you are actually a worker at these companies,or even better like an executive at these companies. You’re like, oh my god, like are they actually storming our company with like pitchforks, and obviously it’s kind of also a tie in to other movements in history, right, pitchforks. Storming the Bastille. There’s all kinds of tie ins in terms of other movements that were pushing for change. 

I really liked those wanted  posters, because it paints the message in a way that it would otherwise take me five or 10 minutes to explain through facts. Like the message is basically you are committing crimes against people, right, like we are wanted, the same way that people think of somebody who commits whatever random petty crime, that’s a person that needs to be punished, right? We’re kind of saying you need to be punished for not just whatever petty crime, but these extraordinarily large harms that you’re doing to people around the world. 

And I think, first of all, that poster is a great way of conveying that sense of justice and also a sense of like, this person has done a lot of really wrong things, this company is really really bad in a much quicker way than the facts would otherwise be able to convey. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t then back it up with facts. We shouldn’t just go off for anyone, but we need to be able to actually say okay, Schwarzman’s company has done this and that and this and that and this is why it’s bad. We do need to have it backed up with facts. But I really like the cheeky messaging and visuals and phrases and props because it kind of conveys a lot of the stuff and gets people’s sensibilities of morality and justice in a much deeper way than facts and do.

Marie Fadeyeva  25:04

It’s awesome to hear you talk about these different forms of incorporating humor, or more lighthearted things into your activism, in which climate work is inherently I think very emotional and can be really exhausting for the activist. 

So I’m wondering, I think a lot of people kind of have this climate crisis awakening, if you will, around high school and or college. So I’m wondering if they’re, in your opinion, do you have a vision of a future of climate education in high school or college, where it may be like environmental studies exams,  a required general education course, or people started talk more about climate anxiety or do workshops or something like that? Or maybe something in your experience as a student that really helped, you talked about your like social studies teachers, but maybe there’s also something else like you might talk about?

Alice Hu  25:56

Yeah, totally. I one hundred percent think that science based climate education is really, really important. It’s something that in an alarming way, many institutions even you know, relatively, you know, moderate or left leaning or whatever institutions don’t necessarily mandate, right? And I think it’s very startling. 

I think, for example, the University of Barcelona, or some university in Barcelona, I don’t know if it’s probably University Barcelona, just implemented a mandatory environmental studies climate course, only this fall, in response to a set of student occupations that are happening there..

So yeah, I do think it’s super, super important. But to speak to the other parts of your question. I think beyond just making sure students have the full facts of what exactly is going to happen…And also, I think, climate science as I think it used to be taught or the way I learned it at first was actually I think in like, fifth or sixth grade. It was at some point when I was fairly young, and I watched “An Inconvenient Truth” when it first came out, the Al Gore film, and I think it was, you know, that was a very startling film. But that film is now, I don’t know how old it is exactly, but it’s now at least a decade old or maybe 15 years old. 

And the situation has gotten even worse. I’d also like to make sure that this curriculum keeps up with the fact that back in Al Gore’s day, maybe some of these projected things would have happened at a time maybe in 25 years or 30 years, but now it’s gonna be happening in the next few years, potentially some of these really big effects. 

And I also think that climate science is a socially embedded thing. It’s not just the natural phenomenon that happens, it’s going to affect our food systems, which is obviously quite obviously a sort of socially embedded thing. It’s going to affect migratory patterns. It’s going to affect politics, and I think all of these things in this sort of my imagined climate course should also be delving into those things, not just the science of how many animals are going to die or how many biomes are going to change from, you know, grasslands to, I don’t know, desert or whatever, but you’ll also be able to really be talking about the political effects, the economic effects, and the social effects of all of it. 

And I actually think that for me it was like, I knew about climate science and I was concerned about it for a very long time growing up but actually it was learning about like, oh, the millions people that are gonna have to move. And how it’s going to strain our already very fraught immigration systems. And how immigration is already such a polarized thing that really activates right wing responses and backlash. And so how, how is that going to make our political dynamic even more toxic, and, you know, embolden the fascists, like far right? Even more, right? 

Like, you know, all these things, but that was actually in some ways more scary than just being like oh, like sea level is gonna rise by this many feet. And these cities are going to be underwater. So I think emphasizing both in this curriculum is really important. 

But I think beyond the science, I think people especially – if you’re like, let’s say 14, 15, 16, or even 22, and you’re learning about this for the first time, I mean, honestly, even if you’re 50 years old, or 70 years old, and learning about this for the first time, it’s very, very scary. 

And we need to have support systems in place, especially if you’re in school, to deal with that. 

I think I spiraled into so much anxiety even as just a 10 year old or whenever it was that I watched “An Inconvenient Truth.” And like there was no system in place, no support systems in place for me to actually navigate that. Not to get rid of the anxiety, I because I think that anxiety is in response to a very real thing that is definitely happening, but to rather learn how to cope with it and also to learn how to transform anxiety, fear, anger into productive outlets. 

And I think that’s where, you know, I think for some people, that’s where humor can come into play. Doing fun, cheeky actions come into play. That’s often my preferred sort of way of getting to navigate some of these very difficult feelings. 

But I also think there’s other times when I kind of need more like, you know, I guess more. I don’t know, emotional care, right in terms of just being able to connect with other people who are also feeling the same way, that can be very powerful. I also think it’s often the journey like I think, you know, at first it was very scary, and I really needed to connect with people about, just by commiserating together about anxiety. Then now I guess I’ve lived with this for so long and also it’s my day to day work, and I think about it like so often every day, but like, you know, I don’t necessarily want to be dwelling. I don’t need to be talking about my anxiety everyday. But what I actually need is an outlet for humor, and for fun and creativity and stuff. 

And so I think it depends on every person. But I think if schools are going to take on the responsibility of properly educating people on the full extent of how scary this might be, which I think they should be taking on that responsibility, then I think schools and other institutions that support students also need to be taking on the responsibility of helping people navigate all the all the really difficult feelings that are going to come up. And also navigate in the way this isn’t just Okay, now I’m over my climate anxiety, I realized that, you know, there’s nothing I can do and like, I might as well just like enjoy my life, but navigate in a way that’s actually socially responsible and morally responsible allows people to feel more empowered to actually fight it.

Eli Gitter-Dentz  31:29

I appreciate your concern about climate anxiety, because this might be something or it is something that a lot of people, especially young people are experiencing, and I’m curious to both Alice and Marie, what is the attitude towards climate change on campus at Columbia?

Alice Hu  31:51

I can go first. I’m obviously not a student there anymore, and I’ve been out of Columbia for about four years now. But I think even at the time, there’s a lot of students, I don’t think I’m that old. I think lots of students were very anxious about the problem. And there were lots of really cool student organizing around for example, getting the university that divest its endowment from fossil fuels, and other sort of activism around that. 

I think when the Sunrise Movement became a thing nationwide, there was a group that started at Columbia to do activism, not just on campus, but around, you know, city and state and national legislative priorities. And I know for a fact Sunrise Movement at Columbia still exists because they’re a great group that I just worked with the other week. And I think that definitely, those feelings existed. 

But I think on a day to day level, you know, many students, and I include myself in this, you know, we’re all trying to figure out who we are as people, trying to figure out as people who, you know, are at this elite institution that have a lot of conflict there, you know, it’s a competitive environment. 

It’s an environment in which many will feel like, okay, the way to not as personal success, but also to making an impact on the world is to land that consulting internship, is to land that investment banking job, is to land that, whatever. Alll the things I talked about the very beginning of where, you know, these different things that we imagine are gonna allow us to have lots of impact in the world and yeah, they will allow us probably have some kind of impact in the world and I think, yeah, not mentally, or, you know, even if people are anxious about climate change, not that many board actively engaged in, like out doing outside pressures, things I see student movements that I mentioned. 

And I think, also, you know, even though climate change is very existentially stressful, it’s like there’s a huge cognitive dissonance, right? It’s, you know, people will be thinking about okay, well, how can I like, plan for how can I make enough money that I can retire with the amount of wealth that I want, while also knowing logically that okay, yeah, but like, by the time I’m a retirement age, what’s the world even going to look like? You know, what I even saving for right or like, no people, you know, so as I think there’s you know, a lot of hugging this isn’t just at Columbia, right? But like, you know, literally everywhere and people have this cognitive dissonance. This is very hard to imagine something that’s so different than what we currently have.

Marie Fadeyeva  34:22

Yeah, I would echo everything that Alice said from my experience. I think also I had my first year I was a freshman in 2020. So obviously, that was like the peak of the pandemic and I was on campus for a few months. And a lot of the environmental organizations were not very active just because, you know, because of the pandemic. And I think in the past year or so, it’s been a very interesting period of rebuilding kind. Of like rebuilding that traction that maybe was reached around like 2019 for like movements like the divestment movement, and the new Sunrise or a chapter on campus. And I think a few weeks ago, they did a protest I said of yours call to protest like Citibank on campus, which was really awesome. And I was really glad to see that that was happening, because I think it’s like one of the first big climate protests on campus or during my time, and yeah, I definitely agree with Alice. 

And for my personal experience, like my community, a lot is a first generation low income students who were just like a very interesting identity. I’m still kind of figuring out how to talk to MC use about climate change because I don’t want to overwhelm them because there’s already so many things like working against you when you’re like first gen low income student, and also like students vote other marginalized identities probably have the same experience. Yeah, but I’m really excited for what’s in optics and can do because I think historically Columbia, students like do a lot of very interesting protests and are just able to engage also the wider New York community, the neighborhood that relocated

Eli Gitter-Dentz  35:56

So I wanted to bring up the New York City’s gas ban which I guess NYCC was very it played an integral role. So starting in December of this year, gas powered heaters, stoves and water boilers will be banned from new construction of buildings under seven storeys.

So this is a huge deal. How does an organization like NYCC go about getting something like this passed?

Alice Hu  36:26

Everything that we’re looking for, either in a direct way or in an indirect way, it is supposed to benefit our members materially, we are a you know, grassroots organization of low income, moderate income people of color across the city and in Long Island. And so when we think about you know, decarbonizing, in this case, decarbonizing our buildings, which incidentally account for 70% of New York City’s carbon emissions, so it’s also a huge part of the emissions pie, you know, we’re also thinking, how are we making jobs in the community? How are we able to, you know, upskill people and electrification work, which is an industry that needs more jobs, needs more talent, and how can we make sure that, you know, people in general are creating more, that we’re creating more good jobs for our communities, for example, in this case.

So you know, we always had to design policies or things that we fight for that, you know, in this way, in this case directly, sort of are going to be able to impact our members. The other thing is also, you know, the bills that you get, when you’re in an electrified system, in an electric building, are cheaper than when you have a gas power building. So, you know, it’s also going to bring up people’s bills. And I think so i think and then and then in terms of moving that through, you know, we really believe in running strategic campaigns against specific targets, in calling for specific demands.

I think a lot of protests will be like, ‘government needs to act now,’ or, climate crisis is a problem.’ And I think those protests are valuable because they’re definitely changing the public narrative, right. And it’s creating better conditions for policies to get through.

But what we will do a lot is actually capitalizing on the change dynamics, that change the context, and then afterwards saying, OK, the City…at the time, Bill de Blasio, the mayor and the various council members, saying, they need to pass this thing.

And then we ran a targeted campaign where we brought together a multiracial movement — our members, folks of color, working class folks, along with a lot of other groups around the city, which might include students, or include progressive white folks, across the city and really targeted specific decision makers at different points. To say okay, like, We’re protesting you now.

And you specifically — Cory Johnson, you, the city council chair, you specifically need to do this, or Bill de Blasio you specifically need to do this.

Actuallyour primary campaigns director, Pete Sikora, wrote a great memo that really details exactly how this was one. It’s like a 20 page memo, so I definitely don’t have time to say all of it here, but the core of it is we run these strategic targets, sorry, strategic campaigns that aim at specific targets, and we have specific demands for these targets, and the demands that we have, we really try to think about what our members need.

And that’s not just because our members have us do what they want, which is the case, but it’s also because, in a much bigger sense I think we need to build a much bigger power base to actually win the big pieces, to win the big sort of sweeping climate changes that we need. Sometimes I say, it’s like if we have the power to have won already, we would have done it already.

We don’t have the power yet to win, and we need to build more of that. And I think one of the best ways to build a bigger power base, a much more multiracial base in this society, is to be able to speak to other concerns besides just climate.

We’re not just trying to push for climate policies. For example, we’re also trying to push for policies that create more green jobs in the community, jobs that are good jobs, union jobs in the community. You know, we’re not just trying to win these policies to bring down your bills. We’re not just trying to divest from fossil fuels, but we’re trying to fundamentally shift money away, these trillions of dollars away, from fossil fuels and to things that are much better for everybody who’s alive.

We’re not just trying to figure out dirty buildings, we’re also trying to figure out how we can couple that with policies that create more affordable housing, but socially controlled.

I’m throwing out so many random examples, but the point is, you know, I think we need to build a much bigger power base in order to win the things, the big things we need, and I think a huge part of that is not trying to push for policies that appeal to a broader set of people than just like, you know, environmental people, or young people who are anxious about climate, or whatever.

Eli Gitter-Dentz  41:16

I just wanted to say, thank you. It’s really great to have you on. Thank you so much.

Alice Hu  41:22

Of course, thanks for having me on.