Thousands of Portlanders took to the streets Friday, calling on elected leaders to take more decisive action against climate change. The event, organized by the Portland Youth Climate Strike, also took aim at businesses and organizations that organizers believe are working in opposition of the city’s climate goals.
“We need adults to go beyond calling youth activists ‘inspiring,’” strike organizer Adah Crandall said in a press statement, “they must join this movement with us and do their part to protect our shared future.”
Over two thousand people gathered in front of City Hall Friday morning to deliver a climate pledge to Portland officials. The pledge asked city leaders to “act decisively” to combat climate change by opposing new fossil fuel investments, refusing monetary contributions from the oil, gas, and coal industries, designing climate policies that prioritize their constituent’s health, and supporting environmental justice initiatives “at every possible opportunity.”
City Commissioner Carmen Rubio, Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, and state representatives Maxine Dexter and Khanh Pham, joined the protesters in front of City Hall Friday morning to sign the climate pledge. Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal also signed the pledge, but weren’t able to attend in person.
“People are going to tell you that you are being idealistic and not rooted in reality, but the truth is, if they’re not taking action on the climate crisis, they are the ones who are not rooted in reality,” Pham told the crowd after signing the pledge. “It is so clear that we are in a crisis situation and if we are not reacting and responding with policy changes that actually meet the crisis of this moment, they are the idealists thinking that business as usual is going to work.”
City Commissioner Dan Ryan posted a social media message in support of the strike, but did not immediately respond to the Mercury’s question on whether or not he plans to sign the climate pledge. Mayor Ted Wheeler's office also did not respond to the Mercury’s question on whether he plans on signing the pledge. City Commissioner Mingus Mapps’s office declined to comment.
The crowd marched from City Hall to the nearby NW Natural and Portland Business Alliance (PBA) headquarters—two of the four “climate villains” event organizers identified as hindering the city from making progress on its climate goals—before marching over the Burnside Bridge towards Revolution Hall, where local environmental organizations had set up a climate festival, complete with information about local climate issues and live music.
During the march, students chanted and held signs expressing their fear for the future if dramatic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions isn’t taken soon. According to the most recent United Nations report on climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2025 and halve by 2030 in order to avoid excessive global warming that will worsen existing climate disasters.
Iris Foster, a student at Lincoln High School, said that she has watched “too many depressing documentaries” to not push for greater action against climate change. Foster notes, however, that she only learned about the climate crisis and Portland-specific climate issues through her own research.
“Being able to join the movement should be more accessible,” Foster said. “There should be classes in school about this.”
As the march took over Martin Luther King Boulevard in Southeast Portland, Nina—a Portland Community College student who only provided the Mercury her first name—led a chant in Spanish.
“¡Sí se puede! Yes we can!”
To Nina, climate justice means centering Portlanders of color who are most likely to feel the impacts of climate change first.
“The movement is often led by white people even though Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have been [calling attention to the climate crisis] for years and are most impacted by it,” Nina said. “It’s like we’re overshadowed.”
As the march left City Hall, a color coded banner with dozens of elected officials' faces on it hung in front of the building. The green section—officials who have committed to acting quickly against climate change—included the faces of the few elected officials who signed the climate pledge. The yellow section, representing officials who had not responded to the organizers’ requests to sign the pledge, was crowded with overlapping faces.
“Right now, our leaders have a choice to make,” Crandall said while standing in front of the banner. “They can either continue to side with the climate villains who are destroying our planet, or they can side with the young people gathered here today fighting for our futures.”
The climate festival at Revolution Hall is scheduled to continue until 8 pm Friday.