“We Want Change”: Tens of Thousands of Portland Teens Call for Action in Global Climate Strike

“I came out here because we’re all going to die soon if we don’t!” said PNCA sophomore Clay Kemper.

Portland teens led a strike of tens of thousands from City Hall through the downtown to demand action on climate change as part of the Sept. 20 Global Climate Strike.

They described their cause in apocalyptic terms. "We stand at the precipice of human extinction," says Carson, a 17-year-old who commuted for an hour to join Portland's climate strike. "It's very possible that within the next 20 years, we will all be forced to either move further into the country and lose people to starvation, or we will die."

Carson and teens like her marched from bus and MAX stations—some in the rain, some in the mud—to join a packed pre-march rally in Terry Schrunk Plaza, where protesters like Clay Kemper were waiting.

"I came out here because we're all going to die soon if we don't!" said Kemper, a sophomore at the Pacific Northwest College of Art who was protesting with friends. "If the Earth gets too hot, we're going to go. It's going to be terrible."

The march's organizers are calling on Portland City Hall to declare a climate emergency; adopt a climate-test policy that requires every decision by City Hall to consider and prioritize the Earth's health; fund YouthPass, a transit pass for those under 18; an Oregon version of U.S Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-NY) Green New Deal; and for Mayor Ted Wheeler to stay in Portland and to not attend the C40 World Mayors Summit in Copenhagen, Demark, unless their demands are met.

One of Kemper's friends, Rose Cruz, said that she's here because of accountability.

"We definitely need to show our support and make sure that people know that we're not okay with what is currently happening," said Cruz, a senior at PNCA. "We want change."

Related: Portland's College Students Want Their Schools to Cancel Class So They Can Strike on Climate

Millions are attending the thousands of strikes happening around the world in places like Berlin; San Francisco; Cape Town, South Africa; and even the continent of Antarctica.

While marching down Madison Street, protesters shouted: "What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho! Fossil fuels have got to go!" Some held signs saying "Like the oceans, we rise"; "Don't frack with mother nature!"; and "This is not what we mean by 'hot girl summer.'"

Students—and one celebrity llama, Caesar the No Drama Llama—marched across the Hawthorne Bridge and to the Eastbank Esplanade, near OMSI, for a climate festival from 12 to 5 p.m., where people like City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty will speak. The festival also has climate-change workshops, screen-printing, voter registration stations and more, said the Portland Climate Strike Twitter account.

Today's march marked Portland's second climate strike in a year. In March, students walked out of class as part of a national day of action when young people demanded that global warming be reversed. In the rest of Oregon, youth organizers in Ashland, Medford and Forest Grove, among other places, are also leading strikes, according to the Climate Strike Oregon website.

Members of Renew Oregon — a Portland-based clean-energy advocacy coalition of businesses, parents, health care professionals and others — held signs on the corner of Jefferson Street and 4th Avenue, on the outskirts of the pre-march rally.

Edith Allen, 17, says: "We came out today because we all really care about climate change. We know that it's a super pressing issue. And we want a future that is sustainable that, like, all of us can exist in, especially being young people. We have the most to lose from this."

And despite having laryngitis, 17-year-old Rylie Woodley also came out for Renew Oregon. She wore a shirt that said, "I will be 28 when my climate fate is sealed." Allen, wearing a similar shirt, said that this refers to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that stated that humanity has 11 years before the worst effects of climate change set in.

"There's not any action happening about it, really," Woodley says. "The only way to get it to happen is to make sure that they hear us, and so it's really important that we're all here and all showing up so that they see that we want it to happen, and that it's important to us."

For Carson, who declined to give her last name, the trip to Portland from home took an hour. Joking that her feet hurt, she said that she would strike again if she needed to.

"It's just ridiculous that I have to be out here," Carson says. "We are at a shortage of common sense and human decency… Like the fact that I have to take a day out of my school schedule, just to come down here and hope for human decency. That's disgusting. It shouldn't have to come to this point."