Portland students walk out of class for climate strike
"What do we want? Climate Justice…now!" hundreds of students chanted after walking out of class Friday, Sept. 24, to take over downtown streets for an annual climate strike.
The cacophony of drums, chants and the chatter of teens meandered for several blocks, at times blocking traffic. Protesters set out on foot from the Oregon Convention Center late Friday morning, then headed across the Steel Bridge to the downtown headquarters of the Oregon Department of Transportation, before making their way to the steps of Portland City Hall.
Many of the young activists said years of lax policies regarding pollution and reliance on fossil fuels have left their generation with a climate emergency to manage.
"We see that the leaders that are supposed to be grown-ups are not taking action," Malina Yuen, a sophomore at Grant High School, said Friday. Yuen was among hundreds who walked out of class to take part in the climate strike.
"Currently they're doing huge freeway expansions, injecting more traffic into our communities," said Yuen, who went to Harriet Tubman Middle School, where the planned expansion of the Interstate 5 freeway is expected to heavily impact, if not uproot, the Portland campus.
The campus already has installed pollution mitigation systems at the site and Portland Public Schools paid to conduct air-quality studies in response to heavy pollution levels from traffic on the 1-5 freeway, which is less than a block from the school.
Portland students pouring into the promenade in front of City Hall for a climate strike. pic.twitter.com/xQtO7dKTIC— Courtney Vaughn (@C__Vaughn) September 24, 2021
JJ Klein-Wolf, a sophomore at Ida B. Wells-Barnett High School in Southwest Portland, spoke into a microphone in front of City Hall.
"Extreme heat, drought and devastating wildfires are becoming the norm," Klein-Wolf said, referencing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "The latest IPCC report shows that these impacts will be continually more catastrophic if there isn't bold and immediate action taken."
To address the climate emergency, student protesters provided a list of demands:
• Portland leaders reflect racial justice and climate justice policy.
"People are still suffering from decades of redlining predating the historic Albina flood," Klein-Wolf said. "A Portland State University study shows traditionally redlined communities are nearly 30 degrees hotter than their white counterparts. Policies that have enforced gentrified conditions are exacerbating the fatal impacts of climate change."
• A total switch to green infrastructure that would require green fuel for school buses and city-owned vehicles like police cars, transit buses and any other government issued vehicle in active use.
• Update public transportation routes and maintain sidewalks to support pedestrians.
• Create clean and secure housing for all people currently on Portland streets.
• Accelerate a deadline for Portland to be 100% carbon neutral by 2035.
"There were a lot of teachers that were really supportive of students walking out," Klein-Wolf said. "To know that there are adults in the community that want to support us in our passions is really important."
Both of Klein-Wolf's parents are schoolteachers. She said her parents took the day off to come support students at the climate strike.
Erskine Wells also spoke at City Hall. The teen said capitalism has been the main driver for much of the climate crisis.
"Climate change itself is a symptom of unfettered deregulation … a symptom of a system that needs change," Wells said.
Much of the youth-led climate action seen on the ground in Portland and other cities was prompted by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg and her Fridays for Future movement. In just a few years, Thunberg's international activism has catapulted her into a household name.
"She's the leader of our generation in this," said Rio Levin, a freshman at Grant High School who marched alongside peers.
Oregon already is on its way to a green energy future. House Bill 2021 requires retail electricity providers to establish energy sources with zero greenhouse gas emissions, requiring all energy sold to Oregon customers must be 100% below baseline emission levels by 2040.
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