Thousands of striking students march over climate change
Illinois Youth Climate Strike pushes for Clean Energy Jobs Act
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Thousands of striking students from across the city and suburbs gathered in Grant Park downtown Friday and marched to Federal Plaza demanding political action on climate change.
Organizers had expected 1,000 marchers, judging from responses to a Facebook invitation, but several times that number showed up, and they kept showing up as the march made its way past Buckingham Fountain, down Ida B. Wells Drive, and into the center of Chicago’s Loop, where they filled Federal Plaza and snarled traffic on bordering streets.
“We may seem like kids without power,” said Isabella Johnson, a senior at Benet Academy in Lisle and one of the Illinois Youth Climate Strike organizers, “but I guarantee that my generation will show up at the polls like no other, and if you do not put our future as a top priority we will vote you out.”
The school climate strikes began a year ago, launched by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, and they’ve been growing ever since. According to the Global Climate Strike website, strikes took place in 150 countries around the world Friday, starting in Australia. According to Chicago march organizers, more than 1,000 were to take place across the United States, with Thunberg appearing at one in New York City after she addressed Congress Wednesday, with plans for her to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit next week.
In Chicago, where adults were encouraged to join student strikers for the first time, Illinois Youth Climate Strike organizers made passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act a top issue, along with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s so-called Green New Deal on the national level.
At a news conference before the march stepped off, almost every speaker mentioned the Illinois Clean Energy Jobs Act, if not both pieces of legislation. According to marchers, the Illinois act would create thousands of jobs in the clean-energy industry, eliminate carbon from state energy production by 2030, and pledge the state to entirely renewable energy by 2050.
On Thursday, state Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago, lead sponsor of the legislation in the House, welcomed the support from student strikers. While lauding the protesters’ aims, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, however, did not fully endorse the act.
On Friday, marchers weren't taking “no” for an answer.
“We demand that the Illinois legislature pass CEJA — the Clean Energy Jobs Act,” Johnson said. “Gov. Pritzker, we are looking to you. We need your support.”
They railed at the lack of political action thus far.
“We’ve known about this issue for decades and still failed to act on it until now,” said Serena Worley, a senior at Deerfield High School. “The poles are melting. The seas are rising.”
Many speakers also mentioned the increase in the severity of hurricanes, wildfires, rains, flooding, and droughts as manifestations that climate change is no longer just a theory but is here upon humankind.
Marchers chanted, “Oceans are rising! So are we!”
“The climate crisis is not in the future. It is right now,” Worley added. “Don’t act because we’re telling you to. Act because the science is clear as it possibly can be. Gov. Pritzker, you have to act on this issue.”
“I was never taught about it in school,” Johnson said. “I cannot even remember a teacher mentioning the climate crisis.” So last year’s U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, stating that the world had only until 2030 to act to change the course of global warming before it was irreversible, landed like a bomb on the younger generation.
“This was the greatest threat to humanity,” Johnson added, “and it seems as if our leaders weren’t even taking it seriously.”
“Why are the people in power, the adults, not implementing change, especially when the youth, the future leaders of the world, are begging for it?” Avery Martin, a junior at Deerfield High School, said. “The changes are obvious, and there is no time left to argue over the validity of scientific fact.”
Patricia Agnes, a senior at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, drew parallels with President Kennedy’s commitment to missions like going to the moon — “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
“This country has done the impossible,” Agnes said. “It is time for us to do it again.”
“We must elect leaders who will prioritize our future,” Johnson said to a crowd packing Federal Plaza at the end of the march.
Angela Diaz, a sophomore at Chicago’s Lane Tech, said she was tired of politicians paying lip service to children as “our future.” “You call us the generation with a screen addiction, the generation with no real sense of how the world works, and the generation that gets everything handed to them,” she said. “The only thing being handed to us is a world with dents and cracks — a world that is struggling to reach a new day as time goes on — and the only thing that we don’t understand about the world is why the majority of our government won’t do anything about it.”
Many speakers warned that they’d be voting within a few years, and Emily Graslie, a digital staffer at Chicago’s Field Museum, urged them on.
“Vote when you can vote,” she told the assembled crowd at Federal Plaza, “but do this kind of activism all the time.”