Why young people are striking Friday: ‘I won’t go to school and act like everything is normal’

  • Jordan Winsor. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Xiaoping Yu. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Naomi Johnson. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Willa Sippel. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Kala Garrido. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/17/2019 2:54:49 PM

NORTHAMPTON — On Friday, many students will skip school for a trip to Boston — but it’s not for fun.

The students, along with many adults, will attend the youth-led Boston Climate Strike to demand action on climate change. The strike includes a rally at City Hall plaza and a march to the State House. Similar events are planned all around the world for Friday.

Jordan Winsor, co-coordinator of Sunrise Movement Northampton, estimates there will be 500 people from western Massachusetts, most of them young, making the trek to the state capital.

The event was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenager who started skipping class every Friday to protest her country’s lack of action on climate change outside its parliament. The movement, #FridaysForFuture, inspired others and spread.

For those who can’t make it to Boston, there is a march in Northampton from Sheldon Field to City Hall on Friday at 4:30 p.m. The event, organized by activist groups including Climate Action Now Western Massachusetts and Indivisible Northampton will include speakers such as state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton.

Students from all over Hampshire County are planning to go to the Boston Climate Strike and are urging their peers to go with them. The Gazette asked some of the young strikers about why they are going.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Xiaoping Yu, 17

Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

Why are you going to the climate strike in Boston on Sept. 20?

I’m part of the partnership team for the Boston Climate Strike. I’m going to the strike to participate in the action to urge our government to see and most importantly treat this issue as a crisis it is.

When it comes to climate change, what issue or issues are you most focused on and why?

I’m most concerned about issues around climate justice. People of color and marginalized communities have been excluded and suppressed for generations. They contribute the least while bearing most of the damage brought by the climate crisis.

Do you worry about how your future could be affected by climate change?

I worry about my future almost daily. What would happen when we experience a no-ice summer in the Arctic, what would happen when all of our forests disappear, what would happen when our coastal cities gets flooded. I worry about the things I enjoy daily — the blue sky, the fresh air, clean water, the wildlife. I’m scared that tomorrow is my last day to enjoy those small things — that the next day is going to be a world on fire.

Naomi Johnson, 17, Amherst-Pelham Regional High School

Why are you going to the climate strike?

I’m going because I have faith that huge strike actions can rile the public and bring climate change to the forefront of government policy. Climate change’s greatest adversary is ignorance; there are millions of people in the United States who see rising temperatures and increasing natural disasters, but simply don’t see the connection between these events and the climate crisis, or possibly simply deny that climate change is a problem or real. Activists have done a lot in the past by striking — the New Deal, the civil rights movement. I believe that can happen again.

When it comes to climate change, what issue or issues are you most focused on and why?

I’m most focused on the corrupt corporations side of climate change and convincing our government to take action against big business. Modern climate change denial is fueled by a heartless desire for fossil fuel industry profit, and those industries relentlessly bribe politicians to ensure that their interests stay a top priority over the welfare of the people.

Just 100 companies are responsible for 70 percent of all carbon emissions; just imagine the changes we could make if we forced those companies to become sustainable through government action.

Do you worry about how your future could be affected by climate change?

I try to stay calm about my future by completely avoiding the topic. Sure, I can tell you about where I want to go to college, but don’t ask me about my career in 10 years. All I can think of then is the unimaginable suffering we’re facing without drastic action, the sacrifices I’ll have to make as I fight — because I will never stop fighting — and how much hope we’ll have left if nothing gets done now. I want kids, but won’t have them if the apocalyptic future we face comes to fruition. Hopefully the future I’m imagining will never come to pass.

Jordan Winsor, 16, Northampton High School

Why are you going to the climate strike?

When I watch videos of the devastating wildfires, hurricanes and droughts that have happened all across the globe, I feel trapped. Knowing that my generation will face a world ravaged by such disasters, and yet that our leaders do nothing to stop it, is terrifying. If my government won’t do its most basic duty, which is to protect the lives of its citizens, then I won’t go to school and act like everything is normal, preparing for a future that won’t be livable.

What got you started in environmental activism?

I decided to get involved in the climate movement when, after feeling anxiety about the climate crisis for years, I looked at my brother and my friends and realized that I could lose any of them to this crisis. I’m going to do everything I can to keep that from happening.

When it comes to climate change, what issue or issues are you most focused on and why?

Solving climate change isn’t just about saving lives, it’s also about improving them. I’m fighting for a Green New Deal because it would commit us to reaching the necessary goals in order to solve the climate crisis, while also providing good jobs to every person in the United States. It would provide a just transition by uplifting communities that have borne the brunt of climate change, such as communities of color and indigenous communities, while also including others most affected in this transition, such as fossil-fuel workers.

Willa Sippel, 17, Northampton High School

When it comes to climate change, what issue or issues are you most focused on and why?

To me, the No. 1 priority is keeping people alive, and protecting those most at risk. Frontline communities are already bearing the burden of climate change that less affected areas can simply ignore. I think we have to look at the climate crisis as a public health epidemic that is felt by those least advantaged first.

Do you worry about how your future could be affected by climate change?

Yes. Everyone should be worried. Our futures are so uncertain right now. It’s hard for me to picture  what it’ll look like.  I think it’s time we acknowledge that either way, the world is about to change drastically — for better or for much, much worse.

Who or what inspires you to take action on climate change?

These strikes and rallies and marches are what inspire me most. They bring people together, fighting for a common goal. I was talking with my co-leaders of Sunrise Northampton a while back, and they brought up a point that is made often but is still so critical. They reminded me that you have to ask yourself: Will you forgive yourself if you do nothing? Whether or not we win, you were out there fighting for the future. And wouldn’t it be amazing to tell your grandchildren, “Yeah, I did that.”

Kala Garrido, 15, Hampshire Regional High School

Why are you going to the climate strike?

My generation has the right to a livable future and good jobs. I do not want future generations to have to live with the effects of climate change being an existential threat to their survival. I do not have the power to vote for leaders who support the Green New Deal yet, but by striking I can make my voice heard. By putting my time and energy into activism, I feel less helpless in the face of the climate crisis and that I can actually make a difference.

When it comes to climate change, what issue or issues are you most focused on and why?

Fossil fuel companies target low-income communities of color that have the least political power to fight against them. It is impossible to fight the climate crisis and economic inequality without acknowledging and dismantling institutionalized racism. I believe in equality and social justice.

Do you worry about how your future could be affected by climate change?

How my generation and future generations will be affected by climate change is a constant source of anxiety and fear. I hold a lot of privilege and know I am not who is going to feel the worst effects of climate change at first, but in my lifetime, if leaders do not commit to turning around the climate crisis soon, I will start to feel the effects. I truly believe change will happen, but with the direction we are going in now, I feel scared.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

 




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