If Gov. Jay Inslee had his way he would excuse every student from school on Friday for the youth-led Global Climate Strike.
He can’t do that, but organizers expect many area students will still find their way to join the governor at Spokane City Hall to demand political action on climate change. Inslee will be the only presenter older than 21. Most of the rest of speakers will be students skipping class to be there.
“We are really prioritizing the youth,” said organizer Trenton Miller, a board member of 350 Spokane, which advocates for fossil-free energy and political action on climate change. “We would like all of our politicians to be as supportive on this issue as Gov. Inslee.”
The Spokane walkout is part of a global protest effort that is expected to involve more than 5,000 climate change protests in 137 countries ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on Sept. 23, according to organizers.
Brittny Goodsell, a communications associate for the governor’s office, said Inslee’s decision to attend Spokane’s rally had to do with a previously scheduled event in the Spokane area.
“So, he saw a great opportunity to join folks on the ground there to support an issue he deeply cares about,” Goodsell said in an email.
Friday’s march is expected to be the largest in a wave of protests inspired by Swedish activist and student Greta Thunberg. A similar protest in May included more than 1,400 cities in at least 110 countries. In March about 1.4 million people participated in a strike, according to organizers.
“Moments like this in our environmental history will define us and will reverberate for generations,” Inslee wrote in a statement. “I commend the youth in our state and across the country standing up for their future.”
A number of the student speakers at the local strike will be from the Eastern Washington chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a group for young people to advocate for policies that would mitigate climate change. The chapter formed about a month ago with students from Lewis and Clark and North Central high schools, as well as students from local middle schools and universities, according to coordinator Maggie Gates, a Gonzaga University alumna.
Spokane Public Schools is excusing students from class for the day if they have parental permission, which is in line with the district’s normal attendance policy, according to school officials. The Sunrise Movement is organizing chaperones for students at Lewis and Clark and North Central to get downtown safely, Gates said.
A group of Mead High School students plans to leave school in a parade and ride an STA bus downtown, student Gabriel Kennedy-Gibbens said. High school students there will also be excused from class if they have a note from a guardian.
“Up to this point, I think (students) have really felt that their needs have been ignored and their priorities have not been addressed,” Miller said. “This has been an issue that has been put on the back burner for a while.”
Organizers of the Global Climate Strike are demanding Green New Deal legislation, respect for indigenous land, environmental justice, biodiversity protections and sustainable agriculture.
“Here in Spokane, we felt it was extremely important to show our support, participate in the event and wake up society,” Miller said.
The Spokane event will start at noon Friday at the Rotary Fountain in Riverfront Park. Miller said he expects to have about 300 people join the march through downtown at about 12:30 p.m.
Students will share speeches and poetry at the Spokane Tribal Gathering Place outside City Hall from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Inslee is expected to arrive at about 1:15 p.m.
“This strike is a really pivotal moment because there are so many across the world,” Gates said. “I think this could be one of those moments where you look back and ask where you were on Sept. 20.”
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