Thousands Of Students Gather Across Maine To Demand Action On Climate Change

Sep 20, 2019

From Portland to Norway and Bar Harbor, thousands of teens across Maine left their schools Friday to demand action on climate change.

The "climate strikes" were a few of the hundreds planned around the world in advance of a United Nations summit in New York next week. The strikers believe that despite the inaction of the current federal administration, their collective voice can affect change.

Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

There were chants, songs and even a small marching band that walked the streets near Portland's City Hall Friday afternoon. They were there to support thousands of young people and their supporters from across southern Maine, as they urged local and national leaders to take action to combat climate change.

Scarborough High School student Ava Gleason told the crowd that it’s time that her generation step in.

"We are protecting the future generations,” Gleeson says. “Something that was not done for us."

The strike was one of several planned across the state on Friday. In Maine, the effort was largely spearheaded by environmental organizations such as 350 Maine and Maine Youth for Climate Justice. The lead organizer for Portland's event was 13-year-old Anna Siegel , who attends the Friends School of Portland. Siegel says her concerns about climate change were at first focused on wildlife, but she now believes the problem could impact everything, from racial justice and public health to the infrastructure in her community.

Anna Siegel is the organizer of the strike, she's from Yarmouth and attends the Friends School of Portland.
Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

“We're not going to be worrying about how our college degrees will impact our career,” Siegel says. “We might be worrying about whether our hometown will be impacted by floods, and that's not right."

The national organizers of Friday's rallies put forth a list of demands for national leaders, including halting deforestation, respecting Indigenous lands, and phasing out fossil fuel extraction.

Bates College student Dianna Georges told the crowd that vulnerable communities must be included in the process of finding solutions.

Bates College student Dianna Georges told the crowd that vulnerable communities must be included in the process of finding solutions
Credit Robbie Feinberg / Maine Public

“It means people in office working with local communities to create sustainable change, it means making policy decisions that reflect science and community experience,” Georges says. “Not the interests of large corporations and the fossil fuel industry.”

It's unclear what sort of short-term effect these strikes will have in the current U.S. political climate, where the Trump administration has proposed rolling back several environmental regulations, including an Obama-era plan that would have set limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Trump has also said he plans to withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Agreement.

But some student activists say they have already seen progress close to home. Hunter Bischoff is a senior at the College of the Atlantic and a member of Earth in Brackets, a student group focused on climate activism that helped organize a strike in Bar Harbor. He says that in the past year the group has met with local legislators to discuss climate legislation. Some even testified on a bill establishing a climate council in the state.

“I think that the activism and the new energy we're seeing in the youth climate movement is really changing the dialogue that's happening between our representatives,” Bischoff says.

At the strike in Portland, organizers asked officials from the city, as well as those from South Portland, to adopt what they call a "climate emergency resolution." It asks for the cities to adopt policy goals safeguarding citizens from climate change, educating residents about the issue, and urging the federal government to end greenhouse gas emissions.

"These aren't long-shot goals or abstract ideas,” says Siegel. “These are real things that need to happen now to act upon the climate crisis."

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling told the crowd that he and other officials would, "act on" their demands. But Siegel says she and other activists are prepared to keep up the pressure, which she says could mean creating petitions or sitting outside of city hall. Siegel says she anticipates that Friday's strike is only one step in a sustained, youth-led movement.

This story is part of a week-long reporting project Covering Climate Now by Maine Public and more than 300 other news outlets around the world. The series comes in advance of the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday Sept. 23 in New York. More information here.