Youth demand action as Global Climate Strike takes over Portland

(Scenes from today’s Youth Climate Strike. Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

If you thought the Youth vs. ODOT rally that’s been going on since April was the exception to the rule when it comes to high schoolers being engaged in climate change activism, you were very wrong.

Today thousands of Portland high schoolers walked out of class, hopped on buses and bikes or sidewalks, and met at the Oregon Convention Center for the Portland Youth Climate Strike. It was an inspiring turnout for anyone who cares about the planet. And a reminder to elected officials that young people are coming for them if they don’t make planet-friendly decisions.

It was not just an opportunity for young people to flex their activist muscles, it was a community-building event. Speakers emphasized the need to work together to take on the challenge of climate change. One speaker from Cleveland High School said, “I would like to thank you for coming… The climate activists, the anti-establishment protester, the person who was just pressured into doing this, even the person who’s coming here to skip math class. Whether or not you’re aware, you’re an important part of this movement.”

Here’s a few of the signs I saw:


Also at today’s event there was deep frustration with adults and elected officials for not doing more, sooner. I was also very impressed by the substance and smarts expressed by the speakers. There was no admonishment about individual choices. These kids are pushing for systemic change. And they get it. They understand that at its root, climate change is out of control because of governments that aren’t doing enough and massive corporations that put profits over people.

I was also heartened to hear and see a strong transportation-related element among the protestors. The march intentionally stopped at ODOT Region 1 headquarters and chants included: “What do we want? No more freeways! When to we want it? Now!”. There was a lot of anti-free and anti-car sentiment.

Naomi Hemstreet, who wore a Sunrise PDX t-shirt, said she demanded an immediate moratorium on freeway building. “We must stop expanding freeways. It is time to stop making room for cars! It is time to stop promoting vehicles that emit dangerous emissions into our atmosphere. It is time to make public transportation accessible for every person in Portland. It is time to invest in pedestrian and bike infrastructure. It is time!”

There was also a strong, anti Ted Wheeler vibe. Wheeler, Portland’s unpopular mayor, is facing a recall and there were several Total Recall t-shirts in the crowd. One of the speakers, Calliope Ruskin, lamented the inaction of Wheeler and his peers since the last youth climate march. “This is our city hall!” Ruskin shouted. And then she led the crowd in a chant of “Ted let’s talk! Ted let’s talk!”

Organizers set out five chairs (below) with the names of Wheeler and the four other Portland city commissioners on them. It was a symbolic gesture because the chairs remained empty for the entire event.

Danny Cage (above), the 17-year-old youth committee chair of the NAACP Portland chapter, member of Sunrise PDX, and an organizer working on the Ted Wheeler recall, was one of the most engaging speakers of the day. He encouraged the crowd to not center whiteness (as great as Greta Thunberg is) and to remember that the root causes of climate change are built on a bedrock on white supremacy. Cage also quoted Malcolm X and warned of being satisfied with incremental progress in the name of “wins”.

Cage got a rousing response when he said, “We must stop being comfortable with small, symbolic wins in the name of progress. As Malcolm X once said, ‘If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out only six, there is no progress. If you pull it out all the way it’s not progress. Progress is healing the wound that the knife made and they haven’t even pulled it out, much less healed the wound. They won’t even admit the knife is there.’

“We must stop waiting for a revolution,” Cage proclaimed. “Because we are in one.”

Check out more photos from the event below:

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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