Our Opinion: A new age of youth activism dawns
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 will bristle at that. OK, let's compromise: It's the Silver Age.
Either way, it's refreshing and leaves us hopeful.
Last year, students at Sherwood High School protested in favor of the Second Amendment and gun-ownership rights. We praised that action, too. On the right or on the left, student involvement beats the heck out of indifference, inertia and ennui.
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.
They 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.
Students demanded that Portland Public Schools cover climate change, and work with TriMet to make sure any student who protested could travel safely.
Students demanded that the city government declare a climate emergency with meaningful youth and frontline community involvement; work in collaboration and engage youth to fight for mass transit fare affordability for youth under age 18; and deny permits for a tar sands oil terminal.
Readers can agree or disagree on the topics. Readers can point out — rightly — that the city and the county and, in fact, most public agencies in Oregon 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 don't have the ear of the White House. They clearly have the ear of the school board and Portland City Council. To our thinking, the students aimed their message at the right place.
Nor were they alone. So-called "climate strikes" happened in other cities in Oregon, 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 students on Southeast Third Avenue and Madison Street in downtown Portland could take comfort in knowing they'd been joined by students 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.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.