Behind the Scenes of the September 20th Climate Strike

Student activists march from downtown Portland to OMSI, chanting, holding banners and signs, and calling for change. Photo by Olivia Lufkin.

Youth activism is on the rise. With the likes of Greta Thunberg leading the way, students all around the world have rallied to stand up for what they believe in, in defense of their futures and the future of their peers. This activism was in full view during the September 20 climate strike, a special day in which strikes occurred across the globe. Following the events was a week of climate action, with activism trainings, protests and panels of environmental experts present here in Portland. (Every event happening in Oregon surrounding the strike can be found on climatestrikeoregon.org). This week culminated on September 27 with a day of mass action against the Fossil Fuel industry. 

However, this strike will set itself apart from those that have occurred in the past year in a few ways. Ella Shriner (12), a youth organizer from Grant High School, speaks on this, “At the beginning of the planning process, we had a blank drawing board. We basically just had this idea of ‘we can do anything we want to.’” And with that blank drawing board, they decided to create a festival as a way to bring the community together in support of this issue. “The strike shouldn’t be just a day where people come together and scream and shout and march, and then go home and wait for the next strike. We need to build on the energy that we create as a united group,” says Shriner. 

The goal of this strike is clear: to get the community engaged with fighting climate change. Elliot Nopp (11), a youth activist from Franklin says, “I expect the strike to be a way for thousands to find new ways to get involved in climate activism. Ways like joining an organization, calling local governmental representatives, changing small lifestyle choices.” 

Catie Moyer (10), a youth organizer from Wilson High School, takes this concept further. “I think that the expected outcomes of the strike are that it will be used as a stepping stone to other opportunities in the fight against climate change. Part of the reason we have a sort of festival going on after the march is so that we can have organizations table at the venue. The point of the strike is to get as many people involved in fighting against climate change as possible.” The youth organizers hope that the strike and festival following it will educate the community on how to engage with the movement and then give them the tools to act with the organizations present. 

Along with education, the strike aims to put pressure on the city to comply with demands that the youth organizers have compiled. Shriner adds, “we also have a list of demands for the city and we are expecting direct action from the Mayor on these demands.”

The following demands were given by several youth organizers at the rally held in Terry Shrunk Park next to City Hall, preceding the march across the Hawthorne Bridge to OMSI. The demands seek to put pressure on Mayor Ted Wheeler and the City of Portland to make climate justice a higher priority.

  1. Establish a Climate Test. Every decision made by the city of Portland and its departments must take into account the health of the planet and choose what will most benefit the Earth.
  2. We need a bolder, stronger Climate Emergency. Formally declare a climate emergency with meaningful youth and frontline community involvement.
  3. Fund YouthPass. Fund free TriMet passes to all high school students in Portland.
  4. Stop Zenith. Deny any and all permits for this disastrous tar sands oil terminal.
  5. Unless these demands are met, Stay home Mayor Wheeler! Don’t go to Copenhagen for the C40 Mayor Summit in October as a ‘climate champion mayor’ if these truly bold actions aren’t taken.

The September 20 strike was much more inclusive and community oriented than the previous strikes. This idea was echoed in its planning. Nopp explains, “this strike will be far more organized and powerful than the March 15 one. That one had an unclear motive and didn’t have a known plan of action. After the rally there was a march, but most participants did not know where to go. This strike has a clear day plan and far more organization.” The organizers of the strike have worked in conjunction with 350PDX, The Sunrise Movement, Portland Climate Strike and the Portland Clean Energy Fund to coordinate and fund this massive project. 

Unlike the March 15 walkout last year, the September 20 strike was a combined effort by both youth and adults representing various non profits. Nopp explains the relationship between the youth and adults: “The adult organizers have made clear that this is a youth-led strike and they are just there if we need any help. They have been super supportive and encouraging to me and other youth. It is a very cooperative environment.” Nonprofits such as 350PDX helped provide resources and networks for the youth to make their vision reality. “I think there is a tendency for adults to say ‘oh you youth are so great and you’re going to save us all.’ But we really do need their support and their help. Yes we are leading the movement because no one else has been willing to take the necessary actions, but we can’t do it [alone]. I’m hoping that after the strike there will be even more momentum to actually work together,” says Shriner, expanding on the role of the adults in the planning process. 

Catie Moyer’s message to the adults of the world is this, “Please, please listen to us. I can’t vote yet. I don’t have a very big say in government yet. This is all the youth have. We are fighting for our futures. Please, please listen to us. Get involved if you can. We need you for this fight just as much as we need the youth.” And while the support of adults is necessary when pushing this issue, the participation of students is invaluable. For students who are not sure how to take the first steps into getting involved in activism, Shriner says, “[F]ind your passion. Find what drives you. If you do everything from a place of passion and you always remember what you’re fighting for, it will all come naturally from there.” 

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