Young people across the Puget Sound region strike to demand action on climate change | KNKX

Young people across the Puget Sound region strike to demand action on climate change

UPDATE, Sept. 20, 6 p.m.: Adds details from strikes in Seattle and Tacoma, as well as audio of a live Q&A with reporter Simone Alicea, who followed a march by Amazon workers, and audio of a live Q&A with environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. 

Kiana Gladney and Erica Bieber say they do their part to try to lower their carbon footprint – from riding bikes and walking more to eating vegetarian and reducing cheese consumption, because cows release a lot of methane into the atmosphere.

But today, the Garfield High School freshmen, who are both 14 years old, wanted to take part in a bigger action. They walked out of class and marched with other Garfield students to Cal Anderson Park in Seattle. Thousands gathered there before marching to Seattle City Hall. They’re taking part in a global climate strike that’s drawn people to the streets from Berlin to Sydney to Nairobi.

“Climate change is a really big, daunting problem, and it’s really important that it gets fixed,” Bieber said. “To fix it, we need a really big solution and lots of participation and everybody wanting a really big change.”

Young people in places such as Bellingham, Kirkland, Olympia, Tacoma and Wenatchee also are rallying today in events that include voter registration drives and letter writing campaigns to make their wishes known to lawmakers. Many say they were inspired by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist from Sweden who began weekly strikes last year to demand action from government leaders on climate change.

Finn Long is a 13-year-old eighth grader at Hamilton International Middle School in Seattle.
Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX

Gladney held a sign that said, “Water rise, hear our cries, no more lies, it’s action time.” Other signs said “Don’t be a fossil fool,” “Carbon levels are rising faster than my impatience,” and “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

'AMAZING AND EMPOWERING'

The Seattle crowd included people of all ages, including Christine Castigliano, 60. She had helped prepare an art installation at the park. She was asking people to write down on heart-shaped pieces of paper how they plan to take action and then pin them to a giant red heart that said “Courage” in the middle.

Seeing young people take the lead on such a big protest and raise their voices for bolder action by government leaders is inspiring, Castigliano said.

“It feels amazing and empowering, and I also have to say, I feel some shame for what our generation did not do, and how we allowed the situation to come to this current crisis moment,” she said.

For Grace Lambert, a 17-year-old from Mill Creek, this is the culmination of months of work. She is one of the leaders of U.S. Youth Climate Strikes in Washington state.

Lambert said she, like many of her peers, wonders about her future if leaders do not do enough to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

“The climate crisis is a really scary thing to think about. And a lot of my generation, myself included, deals with climate anxiety, which can be really hard,” Lambert said. “So I really hope the youth of the world take away some hope that things are going to get better for us.”

Environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp told KNKX All things Considered host Ed Ronco that Friday's crowd in Seattle was a massive one. One of the youth organizers said they were expecting a few thousand people; latest estimates are hovering the 15,000 to 20,000 range. 

And the organizers hope the momentum from such a large turnout will continue. In fact, some people in Seattle have been striking at City Hall every Friday since December, says Kimaya Mahajan, a 15-year-old who served as emcee of Seattle’s strike.

Mahajan says Mayor Jenny Durkan hasn’t acknowledged that effort, though representatives for the mayor say they have met with advocates, including folks with the so-called “Fridays for the Future.”  

Seattle's demonstration was festive, with lots of songs breaking up speeches. The songs included an original from a 15-year-old named Athena Fain, who sang a song that she composed entirely based on quotes from the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the founder of the climate strike movement.

Fain was excited as she looked out on the huge crowd, but warned that they should not become complacent.

“We’re all here and gosh that’s wonderful,” she said. “But if we all come here and chant and scream and sing and get inspired and get hopeful and then go home after today and return to business as usual, it’s not going to be enough.”

TECH WORKERS RALLY

While young people gathered in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, hundreds of tech workers walked away from their desks to rally by the spheres on Amazon's downtown Seattle campus. 

Many of the demonstrators wore telltale Amazon lanyards. But the Amazon workers were also joined by workers from other tech companies, including Google and Apple. Microsoft employees also pledged to rally Friday in Redmond.

"It really is a cross-tech collaboration," said Lilian Liang, a software engineer at Apple. "It really is an effort that everyone needs to come together for."

The march is the latest tactic tech workers are using to try to influence the way their companies do business. The group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which organized the demonstration, made headlines earlier this year when they put together a shareholder resolution asking Amazon to commit to reducing emissions. That resolution failed.

Before embarking on a brisk march Friday to Seattle City Hall to meet up with the youth climate protesters, Amazon organizers passed out black-and-white signs that played on the company's ideals: "Customer Obsessed = Climate Obsessed," read one. Another read, "Bias For Climate Action," referring to Amazon's "Bias for Action" tenant encouraging employees to take risks.

"What this is saying is that Amazon is the unique company it says it is," said Brian Colella, who works in marketing for Amazon devices. "It has power. It has the ability to make change and be impactful and be a major player and lead on climate change."

Credit Simone Alicea / KNKX

Colella and others pointed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' announcement Thursday that the company will commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2040. But demonstrators also said that pledge is partly the result of workers speaking out.

"The announcement yesterday is obviously because this is happening today," Colella said.

Amazon's pledge also only addresses one of workers' three demands. In addition to calling for zero emissions by 2030, a more ambitious target than what was announced Thursday, the workers also want Amazon and other tech companies to cancel contracts with oil and gas companies and to end political donations to candidates and organizations that deny the existence of climate change.

TACOMA

Hong Ta, a freshman at the University of Puget Sound, told a large crowd at Tacoma’s People’s Park that she’s nervous about a lot of things: keeping her succulents alive, meeting new friends in college and studying for that quiz on Monday.

But those pale in comparison to the threat of climate change, she said. 

“By far what I am most anxious about is the apocalyptic catastrophe awaiting all of us in the future,” Ta said, to a wave of applause from protesters. “As a first-year college student, it’s hard to think about how my education even matters if there’s not going to be a future to have a career.”

Ta stressed that doing all the right things at the individual level — recycling, reducing plastic waste, taking public transit — isn’t enough as long as “capitalism and our government (allow) corporations to run amok.” 

But she had a rallying cry for the other young people in attendance Friday: “This won’t be the last you hear from us.” 

Signs blanketed the park in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, carrying generalized sayings and more specific ones. “PSE stop fracking up our future,” one read, referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding the proposed liquefied natural gas facility halfway complete at Tacoma’s tideflats

Pacific Lutheran University student Rebecca Auman carried one that said “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”

“It’s a quote from the Disney Pixar movie ‘Wall-E,’” she said. “And I just thought it was a more light-hearted way to approach a serious problem and try to get people interested in it because it’s really a huge thing and a lot of people don’t seem to acknowledge it.”

Auman’s friend, Lauren Wetzel, said Tacoma taking action to solve climate change is important, because it can ripple out to other cities.

“If we start legislation that changes how we impact climate change it will help other cities do the same as well.”

The crowd gathered to listen to speeches from leaders and activists, before marching to City Hall and meeting up with native leaders with the Protectors of the Salish Sea — who incorporated the demonstration into a four-day walk to the Capitol Building in Olympia.

Sameer Ranade, senior organizer with the climate justice coalition Front and Centered, was one of the speakers. He told KNKX Public Radio that Tacoma, a port city, is critical regarding climate action. He said the commerce that moves through the Port of Tacoma directly affects climate change, and the city will be directly affected by the impacts, too.

Ranade said he’s proud to see them so motivated and inspired.

“I know that they’re going through a lot because it must be incredibly scary,” he said. “And yet, they’re taking a step to try to do something about it.”

The people in attendance Friday ranged in age, but a bulk of the crowd consisted of college and high school students.

Lisa Grimm, 21, is a student at the University of Puget Sound and one of the organizers. She said she’s “frustrated by the climate delayism in this country.”

But she’s hopeful that collective action could turn the tide.

“By striking, organizing, getting people to vote for candidates who will stand with the people rather than the billionaires of the fossil fuel industry, and calling on leaders to make structural and institutional changes, everyone is able to greatly influence the state of our climate,” Grimm said in an email.

OLYMPIA

In the South Puget Sound region, 17-year-old high school senior Elyanna Calle had organized a rally on the steps of the Washington state capitol to get the message across to politicians that climate change needs to be treated as a national emergency.

“I’m hoping that politicians and adults of all ages who tend to not listen to youth see that this event was put on by youth and led by youth and we’re powerful and we’re not going to stay complacent,” she said. “We’re not taking no for an answer.”

Like other young students concerned about the health of the planet, Calle takes the bus instead of cars as much as possible. She’s a vegan, forgoing meat, dairy and eggs because raising animals for food is energy-intensive and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

At the rally, Calle said young people will write letters to lawmakers urging them to pass meaningful legislation. She wants leaders to understand that adopting more environmentally sustainable policies doesn’t have to jeopardize the economy.

There also will be a voter registration drive so young people know they can continue to take action, even after the strike ends, by exercising their right to vote, Calle said.