The tens of thousands of students who marched on Portland's streets Sept. 20 to demand policy action on climate change want those reforms to start with Mayor Ted Wheeler.
They are demanding he stay home from a climate change meeting in Copenhagen next month unless he first blocks the expansion of a Zenith oil terminal, funds free TriMet passes for schoolkids, and declares a climate emergency.
WW has learned Wheeler tried to meet the last of these demands, shopping a climate emergency resolution around City Hall before the protest. But he couldn't cut a deal—in part because student activists told city commissioners his resolution wasn't substantive enough.
Tensions between student activists and City Hall may increase after Portland police officers roughly arrested two teenage protesters during the climate march (see more at wweek.com).
The mayor's office says it's working to address the students' demands.
"In response to the city's initial engagement efforts and proposed timeline, the mayor and several commissioners' offices heard the need for a more robust stakeholder process," says mayoral spokesman Timothy Becker.
WW spoke to three student leaders of the strike and asked what they would tell Wheeler.
Ella Shriner, 17
"I think it's a tendency for people in power to say, 'I stand with you.' Our message would be, 'We need you to not just stand. We need you to take leaps and to act with us.' It's more important to be staying here and taking that action than going [to Copenhagen] and falsely representing what we've done here."
Jaden Winn, 16
"Look, we, the citizens of Portland—your constituents—do not want or permit you to go to this event as a leader unless you take a leadership role in your own city."
Lana Perice, 16
"He's kind of claiming this responsibility for climate justice, but we hadn't seen any real work with frontline communities. So we demanded better of him. We demanded more. Leading a city like Portland, you have the obligation to recognize not only the colonization that has contributed to climate change, [but also] how youth have fought. And to take away from that is wrong, right?"