Student Voices Raised In “Climate Strike” | WYPR

Student Voices Raised In “Climate Strike”

Sep 18, 2019

Baltimore student climate activists Rachel Fink, Helen Schott, and Elizabeth Sacktor (from left to right).
Credit Tom Pelton

On Friday, groups of students around the world plan to walk out of classes and hold marches and protests to demand government action on climate change.

Globally, the youth protests are being inspired by a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist named Greta Thunberg.  She held a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court today and told elected officials: “I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and I want you to unite behind the science.”

In Baltimore, several students have been influenced by Thunberg’s leadership. A coalition of activists plans to meet at 8:30 am on Friday at the Bryn Mawr School at 109 West Melrose Avenue in North Baltimore. The students will then march south down Charles Street and hold a demonstration at noon at the Inner Harbor.

One of the organizers is Elizabeth Sacktor, a senior at the Baltimore School for the Arts.  “On Friday, Sept. 20, myself and several students from other schools will be walking out of our classes and striking down at the Inner Harbor,” she said. “We are going to have a rally, with speakers from around the city, and we’re going to be trying to bring attention to the climate crisis that we are now facing, and the fact that it is us young people who are going to have to deal with the results of what’s going on right now.”

Helen Schott, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute High School, said she’s frustrated that elected officials – especially in the Trump Administration – only talk about the costs of reducing pollution.

“You can’t put a price on human lives, and that’s what politicians are trying to do,” Schott said. “Because the way our future is looking right now, climate change is going to impact people, and it is going to impact the environment. You can’t say, ‘this is costing me too much money’ when it is literally your entire world that is going to implode, or your children’s world or your grandchildren’s world, because you were irresponsible or were pinching pennies.”

Mike Tidwell, founder of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, said he is encouraging adults also to walk out of their jobs on Friday to show solidarity with the students by joining the protests. Tidwell said the Friday events will start a week of protests in support of action on climate change.  At least 800 rallies are planned in 50 states.

“On September 23rd, in downtown Washington DC, there will be at least 10 different groups, including mine – Chesapeake Climate Action Network Action Fund,” Tidwell said. “We will be occupying streets and shutting down traffic peacefully to draw attention to the students’ demands and to the international strike week.”

So, what will schools do if students just walk out of class?  In New York City, public school officials announced on Friday that students could attend rallies on Friday without penalties.  But in other school districts – including those in the Baltimore area – students will be marked with unexcused absences. Administrators are asking for notes or emails in advance from parents so that schools know where students are on Friday.

Instead of penalizing student protesters, the private Park School in Baltimore County is providing a bus to help transport young people down to the rally on the Inner Harbor. Students who choose not to participate in the demonstrations will be allowed to join educational sessions at school about climate change, according to Park Upper School Principal Patricia Porcarelli.

“We are suspending the middle of the day schedule and becoming more informed and doing readings and discussions and talking about actions we can take,” Porcarelli said.

Doubtless, some school officials and employers will object to what they regard as political events. But history suggests that all change is inherently political, and that and no real progress is possible without leadership from the young.