School’s out for climate strike? Here’s why teens across Pennsylvania may skip class on Friday

By: - September 20, 2019 6:30 am

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

The school year has just begun for thousands of high school and college students across Pennsylvania. But that won’t stop some of them from walking out of class on Friday to demand urgent action on climate change.

Dozens of protests are scheduled in Pennsylvania as part of a global climate strike, just three days before world leaders will convene in New York City for the UN Climate Action Summit.

The events will take place in major cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as smaller metro areas like Scranton and Altoona, according to the strike’s website. Activists will also turn out on college and high school campuses, where they’ll demand that elected officials take serious action to cut carbon emissions and minimize the effects of human-caused climate change. 

Organizers in Philly are preparing for more than 1,000 protesters to participate in a march through Center City that will start and end at City Hall, Vyshnavi Kosigishroff, a member of the city’s Youth Climate Lobby, told the Capital-Star Wednesday. 

The youth activists will call on local leaders to fight the climate crisis by implementing a municipal Green New Deal.

“Recent data has shown that the climate crisis is growing more destructive every day and broad action from elected officials is vital,” the Philadelphia activists wrote in a press release. “There is only so much individual action that will help, and we believe that our elected officials have a moral obligation to make Philadelphia a leader in this fight to protect our generation and future ones.”

The movement is orchestrated by a coalition of grassroots environmental groups, including the youth-led Sunrise Movement. It’s inspired by the worldwide Youth Climate Strike, which for the past year has led thousands of teens to skip school for climate change protests on Fridays.

A group of teens in Pittsburgh hold climate protests each Friday on the steps of City-County Building. A youth-led movement has also sprung up in Philadelphia, where teenagers say they’re tired of older generations’ inaction on climate change.

“We’re very young, but our generation will have to face climate change,” Enya Xiang, a 16-year-old sophomore at Harriton High School in Montgomery County, told the Philadelphia Inquirer in March. “It’s really frustrating when adults say we don’t understand.”

Friday climate strikes were first popularized by the 16-year-old activist Greta Thunberg, who began holding weekly climate protests last year in front of the Swedish Parliament building in her native Stockholm.

“I have my books here,” Thunberg told The Guardian in 2018. “But also I am thinking: what am I missing? What am I going to learn in school? Facts don’t matter any more, politicians aren’t listening to the scientists, so why should I learn?”

As Thunberg became a weekly fixture on the Parliament building’s steps, teens across the globe began to replicate her protest. She traveled to the United States this month to attend the UN Climate Conference and strike with American youth.

Some institutions have cancelled classes in anticipation of the strike. New York City, home to the nation’s largest public school system, announced this week that it would waive attendance policies for any of its 1.1 million students who want to attend the strikes.

Philadelphia public school leaders declined to follow suit, WHYY reporter Catalina Jaramillo said on Twitter. District officials said that students interested in striking should hold events on their campuses, and that they would be marked absent if they don’t report for class. 

You can use this map to find a climate strike near you. 

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.