High school students across the Twin Cities staged a walkout to demand action on climate change Friday, meeting en masse at the State Capitol to press lawmakers on the issue.
“We need to cause an uproar,” said Maya Sprenger-Otto, an organizer and student at Washburn High School in Minneapolis, addressing a crowd of several hundred teens on the Capitol steps. “We won’t be stopped until substantial change is made.”
Friday’s student “strike” in the Twin Cities was part of a wave of youth-led climate demonstrations across the globe. Similar walkouts, inspired by a protest staged by a Swedish teen, were held in more than 100 cities worldwide, with some rallies attracting tens of thousands of marchers.
In Minnesota, students also gathered in Duluth and Rochester.
Students at the St. Paul rally said their goal is to send a message to lawmakers that they want immediate change to protect their future. Many cited a 2018 United Nations report on climate change calling for “rapid and far-reaching” changes to slow global warming in the coming years. Failure to act, authors cautioned, will result in dire and irreversible consequences for both the environment and the world’s population.
Ruthie Hottinger, a seventh-grader from Shoreview, worries that “things are getting out of control and it’s scary.” Three friends told her in the last week that they don’t want to have children because they fear the effects of climate change will have on the world, she said.
“In my future I see a world that’s safe to live in and smiling faces all around,” Hottinger, 13, told the crowd. But that’s not going to happen if you and I don’t stand up for what we want and what we need.”
Max Sherman, a senior at De La Salle High School, echoed those calls for immediate action.
“We need to get involved and show the government that we can’t just stand back while we basically have 11 years left to save the planet and save ourselves,” said Sherman, who took Metro Transit to the rally along with 80 of his peers from the private Catholic high school. Like many other groups, Sherman and his classmates organized their walkout plans using social media and word of mouth.
The hundreds of sign-carrying students gathered at the Capitol brought a long list of policy demands. Teen organizers said a national emergency on climate is long overdue. They called for action on clean water, climate education in schools and passage of the Green New Deal, a sweeping federal resolution focused on renewable energy, health care and jobs. On the state level, the students urged passage of a bill mandating 100 percent renewable energy use by 2050 and an end to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project.
“If action isn’t taken now, it will be our mess to clean up,” said Farrah Bergstrom, a sophomore at Wayzata High School who has worked on progressive campaigns since age 13. “It’s imperative that leaders and legislators in this Capitol recognize our deep concern for climate change. This isn’t a distant issue, it’s something that’s going to have very severe influence on us in the near future.”
Beyond those immediate goals, student activists said they hope to spark a broader cultural shift. Some of the loudest cheers came as speakers made the case that the impacts of climate change go beyond the environment and the economy. At it’s heart, they said, it’s an issue of racial justice and equity.
“This movement needs to be different in terms of we should be working with marginalized communities. No one knows our struggle like we do,” said youth radio host Britney Chino, a student activist with Young Peoples Action Coalition St. Paul. “I saw a poster earlier today saying climate change does not affect all equally, and that is the truth.”
Public opinion surveys suggest climate change is a mobilizing force for young voters, who went to the polls in record numbers in 2018. Marchers said they expect the issue to be a top priority for their voting-age peers in the upcoming election. Signs reading “Vote the cowards out!” and “Denial is not policy” floated above the crowd.
“We’ve shown our power and we do not plan to stop,” said Sprenger-Otto, who plans to cast her first ballot next year. “That will be carried out into 2020 and beyond.”