Students across the globe have reignited the conversation about the importance of youth activism and global climate change.
Students from all walks of life marched out of class on Friday, March 15 — including students from West Linn High School. These local students gathered on the steps outside Oregon City Hall with a unified message, "This is where we will be living for the next 70 years."
These students and others across the globe protested the lack of action by governments to address climate change. They demanded something — anything — be done to curb the problem.
This newspaper has run letters to the editor for years from concerned residents arguing for or against the existence of climate change. (To be clear, there is no debate among scientists. It's happening.)
As students across the globe walked out of class, papers in the Metro area heard responses from community members, many of them negative. "They couldn't go a week without modern conveniences that either contain or were brought to them with petroleum-based products," one wrote on a Facebook page. "Do they even know what climate change is, and what a joke it is. Stop brainwashing the kids," said another.
Others didn't have a problem with the message.
Exasperated adults have made similar comments during previous walkouts, uttering the same concerns each time students take to the streets to protest their concerns about government inaction.
Their arguments stem from the belief that these children are either using political walkouts as an opportunity to cut class, or that they don't understand the complexities of "grown up issues" to be involved in the conversation.
Too often, young people are excluded from our political process, and as such have no voice or say in what we do.
But children, as we so often hear, are our future. They will have to live in the world we leave for them. It is they, not we, who will have to deal with the consequences of not addressing climate change head-on when we had the chance.
Some school districts have discouraged students from participating in walkouts, but thankfully that doesn't appear to be the case in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. Students at both high schools, for example, have walked out to protest gun violence in the days following the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
This news organization is gratified to see that local schools are willing to let students express themselves under the First Amendment.
Protests are contentious by design. They're meant to put a stress on the fabric of society. Watching children leave class is disruptive. It's supposed to be. If you haven't listened before, perhaps you'll listen now?
Protests have been part of American democracy since the Boston Tea Party. It's about giving a voice to the voiceless.
Protests can make a difference.
Whether it was the Stamp Act boycotts of the 1760s or the March on Washington in the 1960s, protesting is one of the best ways Americans can show their displeasure with a government that often is hundreds or thousands of miles away.
The teenagers and young adults who protested last week are following in a long line that stretches back to their parents and grandparents generations against issues like the Vietnam War or marching for gay rights, or the Million Man March of 1995.
While lawmakers in Salem are considering amending the law to allow students as young as 16 to vote — a proposal this news organization has serious reservations toward — we do believe students can, and should, express themselves through protests like this to make their voices heard.
Democracy begins with ordinary people. To live in a democracy doesn't just mean voting in elections, it means being involved every day.
We're glad today's young people understand that. Just as generations of proud Americans have for the past 250 years.
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