Striking for the Future

September 24, 2019
Students on Strike

“Hey hey, ho ho, fossil fuels have got to go!” Chants rang though the streets of Seattle last Friday from thousands who participated in the Seattle Climate Strike. Students and workers skipped school and work to demand stronger climate action in a city where the local government has already passed a passed a Green New Deal resolution.

On the steps of City Hall, children as young as 13 spoke to the crowd, sang songs about emissions, read poems about apocalyptic disaster and opportunity, and shamed the Seattle City Council Members and Mayor Jenny Durkan, who mostly all remained upstairs in their offices disregarding their citizens. Only Kshama Sawant, representing Council District 3, and two candidates for city council attended the rally.

Students spoke of striking from school every Friday, missing classes, quizzes, and tests, and being ignored every time by the Mayor. While the City of Seattle passed a Green New Deal resolution, it is nonbinding, and students and activists believe much more can and must be done.

Amazon Workers Rise Up

Amazon workers protest Amazon's continued work with oil and gas companies at the headquarters in Seattle. Nicole Larson

I joined the Climate Strike at the Amazon headquarters, where hundreds of Amazon employees had left their offices to protest Amazon’s continued funding of climate change denying politicians and wooing of business from big oil and gas companies.

Although Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced plans to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 (10 years ahead of the goals of the Paris Agreement) the day before the Climate Strike in response to the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group’s planned strike, the company intends to continue to provide cloud services to oil and gas companies.

As part of its carbon reduction pledge, Amazon also announced it would purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans to reduce some of the carbon footprint incurred by Amazon Prime delivery services and pledged to power its operations with 100% clean energy by 2030.  

But, many workers at the rally stated that these plans do not go far enough and recall that in 2014, Amazon promised to power all operations with clean energy, but never made good on that.

After several speeches by Amazon employees on the importance of big tech in assisting the transition to a decarbonized future, we marched to the heart of downtown. Escorted by police on bicycles and motorcycles, the rally marched through normally busy downtown streets, causing all traffic to come to a standstill. Marching, singing, and chanting, we joined up with the youth march at Westlake Park and continued on toward City Hall.

Marginalized Communities Speak Up

The international Climate Strike is youth-led because younger generations and children today are the ones that will face the reality of a dramatically different world, potentially  massive food and water shortages, intense heat and storms, and countries that will become unhabitable, while older generations, who hold the power to take decisive action, continue to emit and refuse to take responsibility.

While youth voices were dominant, people of color and marginalized communities also occupied an important presence at the rally at City Hall. All speakers acknowledged that we stood on land stolen from the Duwamish tribe.

Two speakers began by speaking in their native tongues, and many acknowledged the outsized effect climate change will have on frontline communities. Climate change interweaves racial equity and civil rights with intergenerational equity, immigration, health care, and the economy.

A Global Crisis

A sign held by strikers during the 9/20 Climate March in Seattle

Globally, four million people are estimated to have participated in climate strikes on September 20 in advance of the September 23rd UN Climate Summit, held on Monday, where world leaders will be called upon to strengthen their Paris pledges and offer innovative plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

When speaking before the United States Congress, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg indirectly criticized the Green New Deal as a liberal dream that leads to the further politicization of climate change without action: “No matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics.”

On Friday, the world recognized climate change as a global issue that needs to immediate attention. Only time will tell if the Climate Strike will maintain momentum and lead to real change.