Multiple students who had left their classrooms – dozens of them sitting cross-legged near City Hall on Friday – watched Gov. Jay Inslee give North Central High School junior Hope Henning an unexpected recognition.
“I knew he was going to speak,” said Henning, one of several young speakers addressing a crowd of hundreds at a climate strike in Spokane. “I didn’t know he was going to do that.”
“That” was pinning an apple on Henning’s T-shirt, an honor the governor said was reserved for “the most inspirational person” he’d met that day.
But the governor didn’t just praise Henning. He praised the many students who came from North Central, Mead, Gonzaga University and elsewhere to show they care about an issue he made a central part of his recently ended presidential run.
“The power of this movement, which has truly changed the national and international debate, comes from a moral purpose,” Inslee said. “That is when a 12-year-old person looks at a 60-year-old person, and says, ‘You know what, you don’t have the right to ruin my future.’ ”
The strike, one of dozens across the country and around the world inspired by Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, brought students from primary school through college to Riverfront Park on Friday afternoon, as well as members of local Native American tribes who urged a continued fight against pollution and altering natural lands.
Spokane Public Schools treated participation in the protests as an excused absence, said Brian Coddington, the district’s director of communications. That means a parent had to provide permission ahead of the event.
Many carried signs expressing concern for the future or supporting the platform of organizing groups, such as the Sunrise Movement and 350 Spokane. That includes support for initiatives such as the Green New Deal, a package introduced in Congress that calls for adoption of zero-emission energy sources, reducing emissions from agricultural practices and investing in public transportation to reduce fossil fuel dependence within 10 years. The plan faces opposition from Republicans, who say it will cost too much to implement.
Spokane police said later Friday that event organizers did not have a permit for a march through downtown prior to speakers taking the microphone near City Hall at 1 p.m. The department said in a news release that the march, which began south on Howard Street, then along Sprague Avenue and back north to Riverfront Park on Post and Wall streets “required a reallocation of most of the officers assigned to the Downtown Precinct as well as the south side of the city.”
Some lower priority calls went unanswered during the demonstration Friday afternoon, according to police.
Multiple students who took the afternoon off said climate change was not something taught in their classrooms, and they felt compelled to join other young people concerned about evidence of irreparable damage to the Earth’s climate.
“We came here because we want people to pay more attention to climate action, and to take climate action,” said Savanah Danica, a Mead freshman who took a Spokane Transit Authority bus to the strike with several friends, including Cerissa Moeller, a senior, and Savanah’s sister, a junior named Zady, who held a sign reading, “The ocean’s rising, and so are we.”
Moeller finds it frustrating that climate change isn’t taught at Mead: “They don’t discuss it at all.”
Ainsley Johnson, a senior at Cheney High School, said climate change science also isn’t taught extensively there.
“My science teacher discussed it one time, that was it,” she said.
Johnson has participated in other protests, she said, including the Women’s March and the March for Life, which sought action against gun violence. She and her sister, seventh-grader Althea Johnson, attended the rally with their mother and posed with Inslee in a selfie the governor took after leaving.
The protest also attracted several Gonzaga students, many of whom crossed the Spokane River to attend and led chants as the crowd of several hundred wound its way through downtown just after noon.
Elise Counsell, a junior from Boston, started a chant of “Scream it loud, scream it proud, climate change ends right now!”
“I think this whole strike is primarily about government policy change,” Counsell said. “This is about getting our government on board, and getting the Trump administration on board, recognizing this as an issue.”
Multiple speakers, most far younger than Inslee, urged specific action, including Counsell’s classmates who said they were continuing the push to get Gonzaga to divest completely from investments tied to fossil fuels.
Iaitia Farrell, a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota Standing Rock Sioux tribe, asked rally attendees to continue the momentum of the day not only by acting as better stewards of the land but also as better neighbors to each other:
“I encourage all of you to live a life with more empathy, for not just the earth, but for each other.”
Inslee told the crowd to continue its push for a more environmentally sound future, granting the younger generation the authority to give their elders “a kick in the fanny and tell them to do something to meet the climate change crisis.”
“I hope you consider it the first day of your career in fighting for the planet, not the last day,” Inslee said.
Staff writer Jim Allen contributed to this report.
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