Climate strike in Portland draws praise from leaders
Many protests take on an air of "us vs. them."
The Climate Strike on Friday, Sept. 20, in downtown Portland, was more of "us and us vs. a common threat," as community leaders largely sided with the students over concerns about climate change.
"It's incredible to see our world uniting and acting on climate change," said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, following the mass protest that saw thousands of students and their allies shut down city streets.
"Portland stands in solidarity with all climate champions," Wheeler said. "When it comes to addressing the climate crisis, those with the most at stake are young people. They are aware of and responding to the urgency of this crisis, knowing that the policies and decisions made now will influence climate and sustainability for generations to come. We would all do well to listen to and follow their leadership. We ask that everyone continue fighting the good fight with us!"
The students and the school district appeared to be in lockstep even before Friday's rally. In late August, a group of teens addressed the school board, announcing plans for the strike and delivering a list of demands from PPS that included extra buses to transport students from schools to downtown, and excused absences for those participating in Friday's events.
PPS responded, advising students to "make pre-arrangements with their teachers or principals for addressing any missed school assignments," and inform school administrators on the day of the strike as they exited school.
Additionally, in keeping with requests from the student activists for climate-oriented education for students remaining in class on Friday, the district said it was encouraging pre-kindergarten to fifth grade educators to offer "developmentally appropriate climate change awareness" learning activities.
PPS officials noted at least 5,000 students from the district participated in Friday's strike.
All of that was in response to the speeches, chants and cheers from thousands of young people could be heard throughout downtown Portland Friday, but the urgent call for action was a message echoed around the world.
Thousands of teens left school and gathered in Terry Shrunk Plaza for a climate strike Friday, Sept. 20 to demand aggressive action from lawmakers and city leaders to combat climate change. Protesters flooded city streets surrounding Portland City Hall Friday morning, before marching across the Hawthorne Bridge to OMSI, where food trucks lined up and festival-style events continued through the early afternoon.
"This global movement is focused on demanding immediate change from government officials and lawmakers to end the age of fossil fuels in order pave a road to a sustainable climate and stable future," Jaden Winn, founder of Youth Igniting Change and one of the key organizers of Friday's climate strike, said a few days prior to the mass turnout.
Friday's strike was the latest in a series of youth-led demonstrations related to climate change. In March, teens gathered in Portland in the same spot for a climate crisis protest.
"Our government needs to realize that we are the people who will experience the effects of climate change in the future, so our voices are most important on this issue," 16-year-old Lana Perice said Monday, quoting a fellow youth organizer. "We need to be heard and we cannot wait any longer."
Students poured into Terry Schrunk Plaza, spilling out beyond the plaza in droves with handmade signs. Three students took buses from Reynolds High School in Gresham.
"I have a lot of people that care about the climate," 16-year-old Zee Crain from Troutdale said, trying to keep footing on wet soil in plant beds a few hundred feet outside the plaza, with only inches to move in every direction. "If the planet's going bad, we're dying first."
Most teens who participated in the strike cited a lack of urgency from teachers and leaders.
"We want to voice our concerns for the future," Aaron Berlau, a Reed College student, said Friday. "(Climate change) was never something people of power voiced their concern for."
What they want
Before last Friday's Climate Strike, organizers posted five demands they want Portland area officials to accept.
Two are probably politically acceptable, declaring a climate emergency and requiring a climate health evaluation for future decisions.
One, providing TriMet passes to all students in Portland schools, requires taxpayer funding that has not yet been identified.
Another, denying all permits for the Zenith oil terminal expansion, is legally risky if the company qualifies for them.
And the final one, requiring Mayor Ted Wheeler to not attend an upcoming international climate summit, could be counterproductive The mayor and the city employees who plan to accompany him to the C40 summit in Copenhagen in October say they expect to learn new ideas for fighting climate change from representatives of the other large cities around the world who will be there.
Only those most involved with the rally were likely aware of the demands before it started. An informal survey by the Portland Tribune found no one who had visited the local protest's website. Most protesters probably first learned of them during the speeches. Many were already opposed to Zenith expanding its oil export operations, but they simply wanted city officials to "stop it" by any means necessary.
Although they may not have been fully aware of the organizer's specific demands, everyone at the rally seemed to have demands of their own, judging by their signs, banners, T-shirts and comments, which ranged from "Do Something" and "Use Less of Everything" all the way to "Eat the Rich."
Sophia England, a 17-year-old Madison High School student, expressed her generation's frustration. "This has been going on for a long time and nothing is happening," England said. "We're mad."
By Friday afternoon, the peaceful downtown protest had shifted to the OMSI campus on the eastside, and an hours-long Climate Strike Festival. Food carts and informational booths awaited those who attended.
Alejandra Gallegos-Chacon, a community organizer with OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, was happy to explain how TriMet passes for school students who help fight climate change. "Not all school districts in Portland have yellow buses for all students, and we can't keep driving cars. Lower-income families can't afford bus passes. If students start using TriMet, they'll become loyal customers," Gallegos-Chacon said.
Journalists Joseph Gallivan, Jaime Valdez and Dana Haynes contributed to this article.