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Youth rally, strike for climate legislation

Students join global school strike, Youth Climate Rallies, denounce adult legislative inaction

Young people from across Rhode Island joined a global climate strike Friday as they gathered outside the State House to demand immediate legislative action on climate change.

Students, many missing school for the protest, mounted the steps gripping colorful banners: “Science not silence” one read, and “The Climate is Changing, so Why Can’t We?” read another. Chants and songs of solidarity punctuated speeches, as high schoolers, college students and recent graduates alike voiced their frustration with their public leaders.

The protest was one of more than 1600 Youth Climate Rallies held in at least 105 countries Friday. From New York to New Delhi and Munich to Montreal, students skipped school to appeal to local legislators for stronger climate action. Friday’s rallies collectively marked one of the largest international climate change actions to date. 

The organized “school strikes” were inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. She began protesting outside of the Swedish parliament in August of last year, refusing to attend school to denounce adults’ inaction, The Guardian reported. Thunberg, founder of the Youth Strike for Climate movement, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize March 14 for her work on environmental justice.

Local high school students Joelye Land and Amick Sollenberger coordinated the R.I. rally with some assistance from Lauren Maunus ‘19, lead organizer with Sunrise Rhode Island, a youth-led political movement that advocates for political action on climate change. About 250 people attended, according to an estimate by UpRise RI.

Land’s reason for not attending school Friday was simple: “Climate change is a huge issue, and the government isn’t taking strong enough action,” she said in a conversation with The Herald. It was also important to her to show solidarity with the international student movement demanding a safe, healthy future for all, she added.

In 2014, Rhode Island passed the Resilient Rhode Island Act, which called for 80 percent emissions reductions below 1990 levels by 2050 in the state. Multiple participants at the protest Friday called for a stronger emissions reductions target than the R.I. goal, citing a report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from last October. “We need 100 percent emissions reductions below 1990, or 100 percent carbon free by 2030,” Maunus told The Herald. Activists also noted that the Resilient Rhode Island Act is not legally enforceable and instead  simply serves as a set of targets.

While the voices of young students sounded outside the State House, a crowd comprised of people of all ages gathered to listen and stand in solidarity. Sister Carol Jussaume, a teacher at St. Mary’s Academy Bay View in Riverside, R.I., brought her students to the rally. “The environment is one of our critical concerns,” Jussaume told The Herald. “We asked anyone who wanted to come to join us, and we have about 30 students with us.” The students attending from Bay View ranged from ninth to twelfth graders.

Speakers affirmed  the importance of the movement being a youth-led effort.

“The seas are rising, the temperatures are rising and what gives me hope is that we are rising!” climate activist Nicole DiPaolo told the crowd. DiPaolo, 26, is a born-and-raised Rhode Islander currently on the leadership team of Climate Action RI and a volunteer with Sunrise. “We will keep rising until we can solve this climate crisis and secure a livable future for everyone,” she added. “The hope for change is in us!”

Maunus echoed the sentiment, leading the crowd in a chant of “the youth united will never be defeated!”

“For too long we have seen our elected officials not representing us,” she told The Herald. “We are not going to continue watching our futures being jeopardized like this.”

Maunus, among many other activists present, stressed the importance of a united climate change movement and cross-cultural solidarity. “I’m here because I know that we can’t win when we stand alone … We need to unite because that is the only way we build power.”


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