Portland student activists plan a school walkout Friday to demand city leaders take action on climate change.
Portland high school students will rally at City Hall at 11.30 a.m., then march to Revolution Hall.Climate festivalThis will continue into the evening. The strike is part of a youth-led climate mobilization that’s continued despite the pandemic.
Adah Crandall, a sophomore at Grant High School and lead organizer for the strike, said Friday’s walkout is a launching point for a new era in climate justice and will focus on directly exposing “climate villains” that are contributing to climate change.
“The climate villains are here in our own city and they’re not really all that far away from us and they’re hiding, and they need to be exposed,” Crandall said. “That is a lot of what the strike is trying to do.”
Crandall said organizers are working to be more strategic and intentional in their protests, especially because it’s election season.
“There are going to be new people coming into office, new people who have the opportunity to take climate action,” Crandall said. “So, I think it’s important now more than ever that we’re continuing to put pressure on our leaders.”
Youth activists claimed that their main demand is for the city’s leaders to stop the expansion and development of new gas infrastructure by companies like NW Natural. Students want the state and city leaders involved to create a plan to make all buildings gas-free by 2040, and to prioritize those communities most affected.
“If people understand that NW Natural is a gas company and that they’re hurting the climate, then we have more collective power to stop them,” she said.
In response, Stefanie Week, a NW Natural public information officer, said the company shares the students’ concerns about the climate crisis but did not comment directly on the demands.
Students also called for the city’s closure of the Zenith Energy oil tank terminal. The Oregon Department of Transportation (or Portland Business Alliance) is another target. These activists claim they put profits before climate action.
Maia Lippay, an organizer and sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy, said this strike isn’t only for students but for people of all ages.
“This strike really does have a message behind it, and it has very targeted goals and so people coming to this strike, it’s not just some very broad sweeping idea of climate justice, this is pertinent to Portland, to people who live in Portland and it’s for all of Portland to make accurate change,” she said.
Lippay said organizers invited Mayor Ted Wheeler and city and county commissioners as well as state representatives, Metro Council, and candidates for governor to sign a climate action pledge.
“It will be very interesting to see who signs it and who doesn’t sign it, and it’s going to be a display of how these politicians are treating youth activists and how much they’re going to actually keep their word about these things,” she said.
Crandall stated that youth activists have rarely been invited at the table to work with climate policy.
“I don’t think that a lot of our leaders take young people seriously and that needs to change because we have started to get our way into these spaces,” Crandall said.
Crandall and Lippay stated that they have reached out several candidates, including Tina Kotek who was nominated Tuesday as the Democratic candidate to be governor. They said they haven’t received a response yet.
“She could be the next governor and laws will be signed under her, so it will be interesting to see what she thinks,” Crandall said.
Katie Wertheimer, Kotek’s director of communications, touted Kotek’s record as a “climate champion” and said she’s committed to clean energy but did not respond directly to the students’ demands.
Both Crandall and Lippay said their goal for this summer is to call attention to the climate injustices happening in Portland and to make it clear that it’s not just fossil fuel companies causing the damage.