Portland student activists walked out of class on Friday to demand that city leaders take meaningful action on climate change.

Portland high school students rallied at City Hall at 11 a.m., and then planned a march to Revolution Hall for a climate festival that will last through the evening. The strike is part of a youth-led climate mobilization that’s continued despite the pandemic.

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Adah Crandall, a sophomore at Grant High School and lead organizer for the strike, said ahead of the walkout that it is a launching point for a new era in climate justice and will focus on directly exposing “climate villains” that are contributing to climate change.

People hold up signs at a climate march. One prominent sign reads "the planet is hotter than my imaginary girlfriend."

Students and their supporters march to demand action on climate change at Portland City Hall on Friday, May 20, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

“The climate villains are here in our own city and they’re not really all that far away from us and they’re hiding, and they need to be exposed,” Crandall said. “That is a lot of what the strike is trying to do.”

Crandall said organizers are working to be more strategic and intentional in their protests, especially because it’s election season.

“There are going to be new people coming into office, new people who have the opportunity to take climate action,” Crandall said. “So, I think it’s important now more than ever that we’re continuing to put pressure on our leaders.”

Youth activists said one of their biggest demands is for the city to stop the expansion of new gas infrastructure from companies such as NW Natural. Students are asking for state and city leaders to come up with a plan to convert all buildings to be gas-free by 2040 and to prioritize disproportionately impacted communities.

“If people understand that NW Natural is a gas company and that they’re hurting the climate, then we have more collective power to stop them,” she said.

In response, Stefanie Week, a NW Natural public information officer, said the company shares the students’ concerns about the climate crisis but did not comment directly on the demands.

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Students said they also want the city to shut down the Zenith Energy oil terminal. Other targets include the Portland Business Alliance and the Oregon Department of Transportation, which activists said have placed profits above climate action.

Maia Lippay, an organizer and sophomore at St. Mary’s Academy, said this strike isn’t only for students but for people of all ages.

“This strike really does have a message behind it, and it has very targeted goals and so people coming to this strike, it’s not just some very broad sweeping idea of climate justice, this is pertinent to Portland, to people who live in Portland and it’s for all of Portland to make accurate change,” she said.

Lippay said organizers have invited Mayor Ted Wheeler, city and county commissioners, state representatives, Metro Council and candidates for governor to sign a pledge promoting climate action.

“It will be very interesting to see who signs it and who doesn’t sign it, and it’s going to be a display of how these politicians are treating youth activists and how much they’re going to actually keep their word about these things,” she said.

Crandall said youth activists have rarely been invited to come to the table to work on meaningful climate policy.

“I don’t think that a lot of our leaders take young people seriously and that needs to change because we have started to get our way into these spaces,” Crandall said.

With election season underway, Crandall and Lippay said they have reached out to several candidates, including Tina Kotek, who was nominated on Tuesday as the Democratic candidate for governor. But they said they have not yet received a response.

“She could be the next governor and laws will be signed under her, so it will be interesting to see what she thinks,” Crandall said.

Katie Wertheimer, Kotek’s director of communications, touted Kotek’s record as a “climate champion” and said she’s committed to clean energy but did not respond directly to the students’ demands.

Both Crandall and Lippay said their goal for this summer is to call attention to the climate injustices happening in Portland and to make it clear that it’s not just fossil fuel companies causing the damage.

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