Portlanders demand environmental action at the Global Climate Strike

Young children participate in the march downtown, holding homemade signs and encourage officials to take climate action. Photo by Flavio de Pina Soares de Carvalho

On Sept. 20, one of the largest climate protests in Portland’s history began with thousands of demonstrators convening in downtown’s Terry Schrunk Plaza. Inspired by Swedish climate justice activist Greta Thunberg, Portland protesters joined an estimated four million people from 163 countries taking part in over 2,500 climate strikes across the globe.

Thunberg and other protesters from younger generations started striking after the 2018 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was released. The report claimed that if serious change is not made to climate policy in the next 12 years, devastating and irreversible damage will be dealt to the planet.  

Attendees of the Global Climate Strike in Portland gathered downtown to listen to youth activists speak on climate change and its effects on minority groups, specifically indigenous people and Pacific Islanders. 

Organized primarily by 350PDX, a local environmental nonprofit, and high school youth leaders, the Portland strike was also coordinated by organizations like OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, Portland Rising Tide, Extinction Rebellion PDX, Pacific Climate Warriors and Sunrise Movement PDX.  

After the rally ended, demonstrators poured into downtown streets to take part in the nearly mile-long march across the Hawthorne Bridge. Lucas Martinez ’20 attended the march.

“I felt like I was a part of a multi-ethnic, multi-age group which was very cool,” Martinez said. “The age thing was really awesome. The younger audience around me impressed me.”

Despite the positive experiences of many people who attended the strike, there were several incidents of civil unrest.

Two teenagers were arrested after crossing the Hawthorne Bridge. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) stated in a Sept. 24 press release that one of the teens was observed leaning out into traffic lanes, causing vehicle drivers to abruptly apply their brakes. The teenager was asked to stop with warnings of arrest, but did not stop. When the first teenager was being arrested, another interfered and was also detained. 

Other than this disturbance and an arrest of an individual caught vandalizing, the march continued without any other disruptions to a festival outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI).

The festival included more youth speakers, specifically a panel on the situation in the Amazon rainforest led by Brazilian indigenous representatives and the Pacific Climate Warriors.

Hub-Coordinator for Sunrise Movement PDX Allyson Woodard explained the intention behind organizing the strike and festival.

“We really wanted to use the march as a way to pull people into the movement to give them other ways to stay involved and to really make a difference beyond just showing up every once in a while with a sign,” Woodard said. “We organized a festival where there were organizations tabling and people could go to those organizations and sign up and join the movement.” 

Lewis & Clark students also organized widely for the Global Climate Strike. 

Students Engaged with Eco-Defense (SEED), a Lewis & Clark student organization, started a petition on Sept. 12 asking college administrators to ensure that students, staff and faculty would not be penalized for participating in the climate strike. Additionally, the petition asked administrators to show unwavering support for climate justice by publicly endorsing the Global Climate Strike in solidarity with members of the LC community and young people around the world. Within three days, the petition had surpassed 500 signatures from students, staff and faculty, ending with a total of 578 community members. 

In response to messages received from students, staff, faculty and the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark (ASLC) Cabinet, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier sent an email to the LC community on Sept. 17.  

“As an institution with a strong educational mission and a proud tradition of global engagement, Lewis & Clark encourages students to tackle the challenging issues of the day,” Suttmeier said. “In that spirit, I urge faculty to discuss with students any plans to miss class on Friday, showing flexibility and allowing students to make up any missed work. For those classes whose subject matter intersects with the global climate and activism, faculty should consider building the event into syllabi in some way.”

SEED Project Leader Katie Crocker ’22 spoke about her reaction to the email.

“I was really happy to see (Suttmeier’s email) was being sent to the whole undergraduate campus and students were being included in the letter because, originally, it was going to just be for faculty,” Crocker said. “I was really pleased that the school did have a conversation around the strike and did come out and encourage the faculty to be lenient towards student absences.” 

However, some students, such as Will Toppin ’23, thought that the letter sent out was not enough.  

“I think the school could have sent out a letter earlier, not just a few days in advance,” Toppin said. “They could have provided transportation, and they could have guaranteed the students no repercussions for absences caused by attending the march.” 

SEED project leader Allie Macdonald ’20 spoke about organizing transportation for students.

“We spent some time brainstorming, talked to transportation and we figured out we could use the SEED budget to buy public bus passes and have those in case the (Pioneer Express) filled up, which it did,” Macdonald said. “That was a really cool thing to see that so many people showed up.” 

SEED ultimately bought 100 passes for students who could not fit on the Pioneer Express.

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