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Saturday, January 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

‘Die-in’ protest at Riverfront Park highlights perils of climate change

UPDATED: Fri., Dec. 6, 2019

For 11 minutes Friday afternoon, about 60 people laid on the cold sidewalk in Riverfront Park and died.

The “die-in” demonstration was led by Hope Henning, a junior at North Central High School, and its goal was to shake passersby into acknowledgment of an endangered planet. The protest was organized by the Sunrise Movement of Eastern Washington, the local chapter of a movement started by Swedish teen and climate activist, Greta Thunberg.

“On the sidewalk if you’re dying, please,” Henning said through a microphone.

Henning said they wanted Spokane’s elected officials to take seriously the threat of climate change and demanded a Green New Deal, respect for indigenous lands and sovereignty, environmental justice, sustainable agriculture and the protection of biodiversity.

As the smell of melting wax wafted through the 33-degree air and chalk was dragged around the prostrate protestors, Henning and Tony Horton, 22, took turns describing 11 ways climate change can lead to death. Extreme weather and drought, forest fires, mass extinction and food shortages were among them.

The number 11 was prime during the demonstration: It represented the 11 years the world has left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change, as the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned.

As Horton began to describe the disastrous effect climate change will have to indigenous communities, the driver of a diesel truck on Spokane Falls Boulevard revved his engine and black exhaust poured from the tailpipe.

“We’ll wait for the diesel trucks to go by,” Horton said calmly.

Unlike that unknowing or disinterested motorist behind the wheel, many of the people at the demonstration weren’t quite old enough to drive.

A chorus of students from the Spokane International Academy, a K-8 charter school, led the crowd in a chant to the tune of Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” Instead of the iconic chorus, they yelled, “We will stop you.”

One of them, Esther Angell, said the chant was “directed at the big greedy corporations and people trying to kill our Earth.”

Not everyone who attended the demonstration was so youthful.

Bob Milholland, 80, is a Navy veteran and lifelong Spokane resident. For the duration of the event, he held a sign that read, “Very Black Fridays. Planet burns, oceans die while we burn oil and coal.”

“So many people my age say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it. I’ll be long gone anyway,’ ” he said. “I don’t like that attitude.”

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