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‘What’s the point of studying for a future that’s being threatened?’ protest organizer says

Several hundred Bellingham high school students walked out of class Friday morning for a City Hall rally that was part of a worldwide series of youth-oriented events to demand government action on climate change.

From Washington state to Washington, D.C., and Warsaw, Poland, they demanded that their leaders act decisively to reverse the effects of greenhouse gases that scientists say are causing environmental damage on a global scale.

“We are the future, y’all!” Jaden Stevenson said to cheers as she introduced the first of several speakers at Bellingham City Hall, including students and local environmental leaders.

Stevenson, one of the organizers and a junior at Bellingham High, said people her age can’t afford to be silent.

“We’re doing this with everyone around the world — there are 2,000 towns doing this as well,” Stevenson said in an interview before the rally.

Organizer Brendan Gardner, a junior at Bellingham High, said the Youth Climate Strike rally was modeled after student movements called Extinction Rebellion in Britain and Fridays for Future in Sweden, which started last summer.

Gardner said that critics who said students should have stayed in class had missed the point.

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Several hundred Bellingham high school students rally Friday, March 15, 2019, at City Hall to protest government inaction on climate change. The Bellingham, Wash., event was part of a nationwide effort, Youth Climate Strike. Robert Mittendorf The Bellingham Herald

“What’s the point of studying for a future that’s being threatened?” Gardner said Friday.

In preparing for the event, students applied for a city permit, arranged for speakers with knowledge of the issues, made posters and obtained a sound system.

“I’ve learned how to get things done and how possible things are,” Gardner said in an interview.

They used social media such as Snapchat and Instagram to spread the word among their peers.

Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson Dana Smith said in an email that classes continued on a normal schedule, and parents must excuse any absences.

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Several hundred Bellingham high school students rally Friday at City Hall to protest government inaction on climate change. The event was part of a nationwide effort, Youth Climate Strike. Lacey Young The Bellingham Herald

Smith encouraged parents to discuss participation in the rally with their children.

Jay Jordan, executive director for teaching and learning, attended the rally.

“I saw a lot of smiles and a lot of energy,” Jordan said in an interview.

After the approximately 45-minute event, organizers encouraged students to return to class.

“By skipping school, you’ll be showing your teachers that you were trying to cut class and not use your voice,” Bellingham High senior Claire Campbell told the crowd.

“It’s up to us to take action,” Campbell said in an interview. “It’s important to me because the other generations aren’t standing up for our future.”

Sehome sophomore Hazel Stoyka said she attended the rally with three of her friends because they believe strongly in environmental activism.

“It’s important to join in the community and take a stand,” Stoyka said.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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