Portland Youth Climate Strike demands commitment, unceasing action from local leaders


Photo taken by Claire Roach

Claire Roach, Co-Opinion/Web Editor

Youth are leading the fight against climate change and urging adults to follow through with necessary action in the legislature. A youth group that has been leading the climate movement in Portland, Ore. is Portland Youth Climate Strike (PYCS). The group’s last strike in September inspired a larger conversation concerning the lack of adults involved in the fight for climate justice. One of the leaders of the organization, J.J. Klein-Wolf, spoke further on the importance and overall focus of this particular strike.

We need intergenerational momentum! I don’t think I can say this enough, but it’s so important we have adults and kids at the strike. As sad as it is, kids and teens are still not taken seriously by many adults. But we also notice that a lot of information targeting teens is overlooked and unseen by adults, so they grow uninformed about this stuff. We need everyone fighting to end climate change because it’s that important,” Klein-Wolf stated.

The group was wary of turnout, fearing that the youth-led aspect of their events would make elected officials, corporate leaders referred to as ‘climate villains’ by the group and the rest of the world take their arguments less seriously. At 11 a.m. on May 20, thousands of students, adults and other passionate community members joined PYCS. Outside of City Hall, the protesters presented demands and called on climate leaders in Oregon to continue the action that students have started. During the march, numerous chants rang throughout the crowd and many protesters brought signs that read things like “We are skipping our lessons to teach you one” and “No business on a dead planet.” Attendees couldn’t help but notice the absence of older generations, and the overwhelming number of youth was undeniable.

We have 4 main ‘climate villains’ we [targeted] at the strike: Portland Business Alliance, NW Natural, Zenith Oil and Oregon Department of Transportation,” Klein-Wolf said. “We are urging elected officials to sign our pledge to both cut ties with these groups and work towards preventing them from becoming ‘villains’ again. Unfortunately, maybe people think that it’s the responsibility of individuals to reduce our carbon footprints, and that THAT is the answer to solving climate change. While that won’t hurt the environment, I think it’s important we focus on those corporations and groups creating a system that relies so heavily on their negative environmental impact out of ‘ease.’” 

The march ended at Revolution Hall in southeast Portland with a Climate Festival. Tents hosted by various groups from political lobbyists to artists making sustainable pieces lined the area, encouraging action beyond just one day. This movement was designed to carry the inspiration and ignite continuous passion throughout this summer and into the next year.

In the past few years we have witnessed a startling growth in the amount of extreme weather events and climate crises, and many have realized the time for decisive change is now,” Nicolas Sammond, a PYCS leader from TuHS, said. “Unfortunately our leaders and representatives do not share this same urgency, whether it is due to a general attitude of apathy or ignorance. The responsibility to inspire and dictate necessary conversations on the climate and possible solutions is now ours. Throughout our lives we’ve watched our climate slowly shift to more extreme and unpredictable weather events. We’ve witnessed our skies turn blood red and the places we grew up in transform into a hellish landscape. We’ve lived through a year that saw scorching 115 degree heat, and snow… in April. It is time to assume our roles as active participants in our world, emerge from the frustration of inaction, and secure a future on a liveable planet for ourselves and the generations to come.”

Students are encouraged to pursue further work, especially at the local level. PYCS leaders say there is a growing necessity for student involvement in the climate justice movement – not just to take responsibility, but to lead by example in order to encourage adults and others around them to make conscious, daily decisions that will sustain a liveable future.

“Today, we’ve all done a good thing,” a speaker at the event said, “and I hope to see you all not taking the easy option of inaction tomorrow, and the next day.”