More than 400 hundred people, including students and community members of all ages, took up signs and chants as they marched through Walla Walla and assembled in front of the county courthouse in support of a global climate strike this afternoon.
“When our planet is under attack, what do we do?”
“Stand up, fight back!”
The gathering grew onlookers as more and more people converged on the courthouse lawn and were mindful to stay off the walkways, keeping an opening for those visiting the public building on other business, as one after another speaker rallied the crowd from the stone steps out front.
Walla Walla police kept watch over the proceedings from inside patrol cars at intersections along the route at noon from Memorial Hall on the Whitman College campus to the courthouse. The protestors marched along the sidewalk downtown without incident.
But if the atmosphere of the crowd was peaceful, it was also urgent.
“Boycott Bezos,” read one hand-printed sign on cardboard, referring to the world’s richest man (according to Forbes magazine) and owner of online shopping giant Amazon.
“Stop denying our earth is dying,” another sign cried out. Yet another read: “Make our earth great again.”
One man, pushing a small, tow-headed child in a stroller, had a sign reading: “A future for our children.”
“My country isn’t making legal decisions to go toward a green plan, and within the next 10 years our world is going to be screwed,” said Garrison Middle School student Jefferson Adams Lopez. “If we don’t start fixing that now, it’s going to be irreversible. I want to be alive.”
Global news organizations reported that millions walked out of school and work today to join in the youth-led climate strike ahead of a U.N. climate summit in New York next week.
The local event was organized by the Walla Walla chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a national organization aimed at stopping climate change while creating millions of jobs in the process, according to their literature.
“More broadly, this means our main goal is to advocate for and begin implementing a ‘Green New Deal,’” said Walker Orr, a Whitman senior who is part of the local Sunrise hub.
The national Green New Deal is a congressional resolution, introduced by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey — both Democrats — that lays out a plan for addressing climate change.
The nonbinding resolution would wean the U.S. off fossil fuels and curb greenhouse gas emissions while guaranteeing new, high-paying jobs in clean energy industries, according to reporting in The New York Times.
This afternoon’s protestors in Walla Walla underscored that message in their loud chanting.
“What do we want?”
“Green New Deal!”
“When do we want it?”
Taya Lovejoy, a senior at Walla Walla High School, said she was striking to emphasize the need for a Green New Deal and to advocate for actions such as contacting representatives.
"Do your research on who to vote for in the 2020 elections," said Lovejoy, who personally advocates for practices such as cutting back on meat consumption and promoting recycling.
The local Sunrise Movement, which meets weekly, started in February. Its most recent focus has been on growing the hub and building the movement’s energy, Orr said.
“So many of us in this community are pissed off that our future is being stolen from us by the inaction and callousness of a society we largely didn’t build, and we are ready to join the millions of others around the globe who feel the same,” Orr said.
Elsa Gomsrude, a senior at Wa-Hi, was one of several who spoke in front of the courthouse today.
“We’re striking because there’s no choice for us,” she said. “Our generation did not cause this crisis, but we’re responsible for fixing it. It falls on us.”
Several other local youths spoke passionately about their fears and the need for activism, including Lincoln High School student Vic Diaz who led everyone in a song about rising up until the work is done and a middle school student named Theo who wondered whether he would see a third world war over resources in his lifetime.
“Will snow still exist when I grow up? Will polar bears still exist?” he asked. “Will there be enough water on the planet?”
And the youngster urged his older peers in the group to take action.
“The one thing most of you can do that I can’t do is vote,” he said and was met with loud cheers from the crowd.
Walla Walla resident Tabitha Thomas attended the strike to show her daughter "who is here and how important this really is," she said. "It's going to take more than just us, and being out here is a start for people to recognize that something needs to happen, something needs to change, and we all need to participate in that."
Once the dust settles from today’s climate strike, the Sunrise group hopes to get local leaders involved in planning for how Walla Walla can develop its own version of the Green New Deal, Orr said.
The group wants to work with City Council to develop a proposal that would start with hiring a full-time coordinator for sustainability efforts in Walla Walla, Orr said.
“Our sustainability program will have four major planks: equity and green jobs, regenerative rural agriculture, energy, and waste,” he said. “Working with the sustainability coordinator, we will seek talent from the remarkably diverse skillset possessed by our citizens and assemble a coalition to make Walla Walla a leader in a just transition to a sustainable future.
Orr said that many young leaders in the community had talked with City Councilman Riley Clubb about the idea. Clubb told the Union-Bulletin today that while he hasn’t met with the Sunrise group formally, he has had some discussions with advocates about this idea.
“I’m definitely a fan of what they’re doing,” Clubb said. “I think it’s something the city might want to think about.”
City Council has passed resolutions in the past indicating an interest in fighting climate change — such as one unanimously approved in June 2017. But Clubb said so far he hasn’t seen a really strong commitment to that goal.