Our Opinion: A new age of youth activism
There was a time when student protests covered such tepid tea as inadequate student parking or closed campuses at lunchtime.
That would seem a quaint notion to the thousands of local students who protested Friday, Sept. 20, to highlight political inaction regarding climate change. Or the thousands who protested in recent years in opposition to gun violence in schools. Or who took part in the 2017 Women's March.
Student activism seems to be in its Golden Age.
Those who protested against the Vietnam conflict or South African apartheid may bristle at that. Let's compromise: It's the Silver Age. Either way, it's refreshing and leaves us hopeful.
On Friday, students poured into downtown Portland, clogging streets around Portland City Hall and Terry Schrunk Plaza, then marched across the Hawthorne Bridge to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.
In Forest Grove, hundreds of college students, and not a few older members of the community, took a break from classes to gather at the center of the Pacific University campus.
In Salem, students and adults alike stood on the steps of the Oregon State Capitol, as passing cars honked their horns in support, in a scene reminiscent of rallies both for and against a cap-and-trade bill earlier this spring.
In Hillsboro, more than a hundred people, many of them parents with young children, gathered in the Tom Hughes Civic Center Plaza and cheered on speeches by Mayor Steve Callaway, state Rep. Janeen Sollman, Metro Councilor Juan Carlos GonzÁlez and others.
These rallygoers didn't simply oppose something. This wasn't about "don't" or "stop" — it was more about "do" and "start." They were demanding positive change, with clear priorities.
In Portland, students demanded that Portland Public Schools cover climate change in their classrooms; that the city government declare a climate emergency with meaningful youth and frontline community involvement; that the city work in collaboration and engage youth to fight for mass transit fare affordability for youth under age 18; and that the city deny permits for a tar sands oil terminal.
In Forest Grove, speakers called out the fact that the land on which our cities stand was once the home of the Atfalati band of Kalapuya Indians, asked the crowd to support the efforts of indigenous climate activists in the Americas and abroad, and challenged students and residents to use less paper waste and shop responsibly.
Readers can agree or disagree on the topics. Readers can point out — rightly — that most public agencies in Oregon, including Portland and the regional government Metro, have been making a true effort to reduce their "carbon footprint," and that the students would be better off aiming their ire at Washington, D.C.
But the old axiom "think globally, act locally" seems to retain a little of its luster: These students and other activists don't have the ear of the White House. They clearly have the ear of some local and state officials, including school board members, mayors and state legislators. To our thinking, they aimed their message at the right place.
Nor were they alone. So-called "climate strikes" happened in other cities across the nation and around the world. The Washington Post on Friday reported student protests in more than 150 counties.
Globally, many of the protest leaders cited Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg as their hero. Thunberg appears to have jump-started a global movement. It's worth noting that she's 16 years old.
The people who rallied on Southeast Third Avenue and Madison Street in downtown Portland, the Pacific University campus in Forest Grove, the Oregon State Capitol grounds in Salem, and the Civic Center Plaza in Hillsboro could take comfort in knowing they'd been joined by students and other protesters in London, Berlin, Sydney and New York City, to name but a very few. School districts in New York, Boston and, notably, Portland, granted permission for students to skip class for this protest.
Reasonable people can argue about reasonable responses to the changing world climate. Denying that it's happening doesn't fall into that category: According to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the 10 hottest years on record, between 1880 and today, were 1998, 2009, 2017, 2005, 2019, 2014, 2018, 2017 2015 and 2016.
Notice anything obvious about those dates?
But that's not the topic of this editorial. Our goal today is to applaud the new era of student activism, and to tip our hats to the elected and appointed community leaders who stopped to listen to them.
We can make the world a better place — but it won't happen unless people are willing to stand up and fight for their future.
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