by Leslie Layton
A couple hundred teen and pre-teen students filed out of classrooms today and marched to City Plaza to join the Chico Climate Strike rally, an event that was both upbeat and insistent as speakers demanded bolder climate action.
The Chico event coincided with demonstrations throughout the world that turned out millions of people demanding action. Together, they made up the largest climate change demonstration in history. The Chico rally was co-sponsored by Sunrise Movement Chico and Butte 350 and drew about 500 people — students, teachers, parents, families — to City Plaza.
“Today we strike school, a gateway to our future, so that we can have a future,” said speaker Serena Kuhn, senior class president at Inspire School of Arts & Sciences. “We’re here to get the attention of our politicians.”
In private interviews, many of the teens said they were frightened about their futures as the climate crisis transforms life throughout the world. They were frustrated that leaders haven’t acted more aggressively. Many were chaperoned by parents or had their parents’ permission to leave school.
Melissa Jerez, a Chico State student leader of the Students for Quality Education chapter, talked about the high incidence of asthma in her south Bronx neighborhood caused by polluted air, and said she a lost a 15-year-old friend to an asthma attack.
“I’ve seen the effects of climate change on my neighborhood firsthand,” Jerez said. “I myself have breathing issues. Black and brown people have been suffering for decades.
“Climate deniers must be voted out. We demand action, we demand change,” Jerez declared.
Jerez struggled when she left the stage and was assisted by someone who provided her with an inhaler.
Leaders of the local Sunrise Movement brought candidates who are running for elective office to the stage and questioned them about their commitment to aggressive climate change action. Mayor Randall Stone and City Council candidate Rich Ober signed pledges, promising they would support Green New Deal legislation and refuse campaign donations of more than $200 from fossil fuel companies.
Maggie Pope, a 16-year-old Inspire student, said she decided to strike in part because she was inspired by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
“This is a great opportunity to change something I’m very passionate about,” Pope said. “It’s daunting, really. I worry about my friends.”
She’s also worried that having children of her own would be unwise. “To have something so precious – that would be scary,” Pope said.
Marquadt noted that First District congressional candidate Audrey Denney, who spoke at the rally, had previously signed the Sunrise pledge. City councilor Ann Schwab also spoke, but hasn’t yet been asked to make the pledge.
Marquadt said he was thrilled to see the large contingent of students join the rally and is encouraged by the size of demonstrations that took place throughout the world today.
“There’s movement on the ground… this is turning in the right direction. I’m inspired but by no means content,” Marquadt said.
For more on the week’s activities, visit the Butte 350 Facebook page and look for the Chico Sunrise Strike Week post.
video by Leslie Layton
Leslie Layton is a freelance journalist and editor of ChicoSol.