More than two thousand Portland students walked out of class and marched to Portland City Hall Friday, delivering demands for a more aggressive response to climate change.
The strike, organized by the Portland Youth Climate Strike (PYCS), was one of hundreds of global events held Friday to raise awareness of the climate crisis and pressure lawmakers for greater action to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
“A lot of leaders like to say that they're taking action on climate and they'll sort of list off some things that they might have done, but it's never enough,” said Adah Crandall, one of the 12 high school students who organizes with PYCS. “I think there are very few people in power right now who are prepared to act with the urgency that we need and rise to the occasion.”
Students met at the Oregon Convention Center around 11 am before marching to City Hall to deliver a list of six climate policy changes they want Portland officials to take action on. The demands include switching to green infrastructure in the city, accelerating Portland’s deadline of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 to 2035, immediately reducing the import of fossil fuels at the industrial hub along the Willamette River, decarbonizing the region’s transportation system, and emphasizing racial justice in any and all climate justice policies. [Link to PDF of demands]
While the demands dive into specific policy changes the group wants to see, including transitioning to an all-electric fleet of city-owned vehicles and a moratorium on all freeway widening projects within city limits, Crandall notes that the strike is a show of people power in addition to a call for policy changes.
“This is about policy, but this is also about letting our leaders know that we won't tolerate their inaction and that youth are going to continue striking, we’re going to continue protesting, we're going to continue pressuring them to take action on climate because our futures literally depend on it,” Crandall said.
Several students who spoke during the rally talked about the anxiety they feel about their future, especially after facing the extreme wildfires, deadly heat waves, and ice storms in the past year.
Naomi, a 15 year-old member of Sunrise Movement PDX, recalled the fear she had during the historic wildfires in September 2020.
“The fires were in my body—I was breathing the burning trees and drinking water with ash in it,” Naomi said to the crowd after reaching City Hall.
Students who spoke at City Hall addressed five empty folding chairs, labeled with the names of Mayor Ted Wheeler and all four city commissioners. PYCS organizers invited the five Portland officials to attend the event earlier in the week but, as of 2 pm Friday, they had not heard back from any of them.
“I commend these young Portlanders for standing firm for their future,” said Commissioner Carmen Rubio in a statement to the Mercury following the strike. “I share their urgency, and agree we need meaningful, long-term work to decarbonize our economy and build a resilient Portland.”
Rubio said she plans to “take action” to permanently stop the expansion of fossil fuel storage capacity at the Critical Energy Hub, which stores oil and other fuels in Portland’s industrial area, and increase the city’s use of biodiesel and renewable diesel in the coming months.
“Nobody inspires me like the youth of Portland,” said Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who sent a staff member to the march, in a statement to the Mercury. “We must follow the lead of the generations most impacted by the harm caused by climate change. I look forward to continuing to work with our youth on solutions and meeting with organizers to further discuss their ideas."
Spokespeople for Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Mingus Mapps said they intend to schedule a meeting with the PYCS organizers next week to discuss the demands. Commissioner Dan Ryan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The march route included an intentional stop at the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) headquarters.
“ODOT is also a target here,” Crandall said in an interview with the Mercury. “Forty percent of [Oregon’s carbon] emissions come from transportation and we really want to call attention to that because people don't think of ODOT as a villain in the climate crisis.”
ODOT spokesperson Matt Noble said the transportation department is taking an inventory of the transportation department’s greenhouse gas emissions with an aim to evaluate where it can cut carbon emissions and plans to expand the state’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure as a way to address the state’s transportation emissions.
“I would not paint us as a villain, but yes, ODOT historically has not done the best job in that space, and that’s something that we’re course correcting now,” said Noble. “It’s incumbent on us to demonstrate through action that we are moving the ship.”
The predominantly middle- and high school-aged crowd said that protesting is one of their primary ways of engaging with their political leaders.
“Because we can't vote yet, this is one of the best ways for us to really enact change” said 16-year-old PYCS organizer Jacob Glass. “We have to show up, we have to talk about this, and it has to be a bigger discussion.”
In an interview with the Mercury on Wednesday before the strike, Crandall and Glass had no idea how many people to expect. Part way through the march, Crandall was ecstatic by the turnout.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Crandall said to the Mercury, stopping to see if she could see the end of the crowd—she couldn’t. “This is amazing.”