Maine youth to participate in Climate Strike

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PORTLAND — Area students who believe climate change action can’t wait until the next general election plan to participate Friday in a national Youth Climate Strike.

Events are planned in Portland, Brunswick, Lewiston and beyond, according to organizers, which include 350 Maine, a grassroots movement dedicated to climate justice.

“It’s important for my fellow youth to step up and demand political action since this is our lives we are talking about,” said Anna Siegel, a seventh-grader from Yarmouth who attends Friends School of Portland in Falmouth. “Climate change (is) happening right now. Time is running out and (our) futures are imperiled,”

Siegal is one of several local youths helping to organize the Portland climate strike. She said she’s passionate about climate change for several reasons, including its devastating impact on wildlife.

With the climate strike, Siegal said she hopes to show “I am doing something. I’m not helpless. I am taking action.”

The Portland climate strike is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 15 at City Hall.

Several area schools are holding in-service days for teachers, which means at least those students will not be missing any classes.

Unlike March for Our Lives, which was held nearly a year ago, several school superintendents said they were unaware of the Youth Climate Strike and could not say whether any of their students planned to attend.

The exceptions were Portland, South Portland and Brunswick.

The Portland Public Schools said in a press release Wednesday that administrators at the district’s three high schools – Portland, Deering and Casco Bay – are allowing students to participate.

However, students who take part must do so during their regular advisory periods or with parental permission. In addition all participating students are responsible for their own transportation, will be marked absent and are required to make up any missed schoolwork.

Originally students at South Portland High School were planning an alternative, on-campus event on Thursday, March 14, but Principal Michele LaForge said that plan has now been scuttled and students are planning to attend the Portland rally on Friday instead.

She said administrators, both at the high school and district level, gave permission for the Youth Climate Strike because “our young people are citizens, too, and their efforts to find ways to speak and be heard respectfully should be supported, especially by educators.”

She said students will be responsible for making up classwork they miss.

In Brunswick, students from Harriet Beecher Stowe Elementary School and Brunswick Junior High School will march to Town Hall beginning at 3:10 p.m. Friday to ask town officials to take bigger steps to fight climate change.

“We just want the grown-ups to start doing more to stop destroying Earth,” fourth-grader Zander Simpson said.

“We need a new climate change plan. Now … before it gets too late,” fifth-grader Reva Shende said in an open letter to the Town Council. “We, the children and teens of this town … will not take ‘no’ for an answer.”

A follow-up to the local Youth Climate Strike is being planned for April 23 in Augusta, where Maine youth will take part in a Day of Action, according to Siegal.

“The goal,” she said, “is to have 1,000 youth (go to the capital) to speak with lawmakers, lobby, and participate in a day of civic engagement and education.”

The Youth Climate Strike in Maine will coincide with protests taking place in up to 150 cities around the world.

The global strike was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, who addressed the United Nations climate conference in December and berated global leaders for their inaction.

Since then Thunberg has called on young people everywhere to demand action, and students have answered that call by holding demonstrations and school walk-outs.

The Youth Climate Strike website says the event is being held across the U.S. on Friday because “it’s going to take bold action to bring about bold solutions to this crisis.”

“We’re not afraid to show our elected officials that we mean business (and) on March 15th, youth in the U.S. will join thousands of youth across the globe striking from school for climate action,” the website states. “With our futures at stake, we call for radical legislative action to combat climate change and its countless detrimental effects.”

The Youth Climate Strike movement says its demands include transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030, no investment in additional fossil fuel infrastructure and creation of a Congressional committee to oversee implementation of a Green New Deal.

Overall, the climate strike website says, “the world needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050 (and) we need to incorporate this fact into all policymaking.”

Cassie Cain, youth engagement coordinator for 350 Maine, said her group is acting as an adult ally “to do behind-the-scenes tasks” supporting activities across the state Friday.

She while adults can join in the Youth Climate Strike, “they should keep in mind that this a youth-led and centered action (and) they should aim to take listening roles.”

Cain called the event “a critical step for youth activists who are demanding climate action.” She said it’s key for young people to take a leading role “because they are the ones inheriting this planet and climate.”

Siegal said her hope for the Youth Climate Strike is, no matter how many students show up, they “realize that they have a voice. They do have power, and can make change.”

“I wish for adults to understand that if they love their children, climate is an issue that should be on the forefront of their minds,” Siegal said. “This strike is being held because we need legislative action and waiting for it isn’t an option.”

This story has been updated to provide new information on local student participation.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

 

Area students are planning to attend Youth Climate Strike events across Maine on Friday, March 15.

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