Hundreds of Students Plan to Join Phoenix Edition of Youth Global Climate Strike

Members of the Arizona Youth Climate Strike after an environmental town hall in Tempe on May 17.
Members of the Arizona Youth Climate Strike after an environmental town hall in Tempe on May 17.
Courtesy of Aditi Narayanan
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Hundreds of students plan to rally in downtown Phoenix on Friday afternoon, September 20, in coordination with student strikes around the globe calling on world leaders to address the world's changing, warming climate.

More than 950 strikes have been planned across the United States on Friday, three days before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, where countries are supposed to commit to more aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

In Arizona, strikes are also planned in Tucson, Prescott, Payson and Flagstaff, amid a groundswell of youth activism on climate change in the past year inspired largely by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old from Sweden who went on strike from school a year ago, demanding action on climate change. (Thunberg is scheduled to join the strike in New York City on Friday; she took a zero-emissions sailboat to the United States.)

As of Thursday afternoon, 339 people responded to the Facebook event for the Phoenix rally, saying they would attend. One organizer estimated that a total of 500 to 600 people had signed up through social media, including Facebook, and through the website strikewithus.org.

The strike is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Maricopa County courthouse. From there, protesters will march to the State Capitol, where they are expected to hold a rally until 6 p.m.

In the United States, the stated demands of these activists are sweeping and wide-ranging. They are calling for an end to fossil fuels and a transition to 100 percent renewable energy, respect for indigenous sovereignty, economic justice, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity protection.

In Phoenix, activists' priorities are narrower.

Topping the list of longstanding demands are more solar energy and better recycling, according to Aditi Narayanan, a 17-year-old senior at BASIS Phoenix and one of the leaders of Arizona Youth Climate Strike, the student group organizing Friday's rally.

More recently, Narayanan said, Arizona Youth Climate Strike has been pushing for better climate education. She and a few other students, members of Arizona Youth Climate Strike and other groups, are in the early stages of crafting a bill for the 2020 legislative session.  They've been working on the legislation with Democratic State Senator Juan Mendez.

"We're figuring out what we want to put in there," Narayanan said. "So it's really in the beginning."

Mendez said that he had developed a few options to share with the students, but that how they ultimately decide to pursue their goals of climate education is up to them.

"They want there to be some kind of class that focuses on educating youth about the environment. It doesn't necessarily have to be climate-focused," he said.

Mendez acknowledged that while such an initiative might struggle to gain traction in a state like Arizona, he saw it as a learning opportunity for students to understand the myriad ways of working through the political system. Even if a bill doesn't become law, students could bring their ideas to local school boards, he suggested.

"If they don’t feel like they can bring their ideas to the system and contribute to the conversation, they’re never going to be engaged at the level we need them to be," he said.

Mendez said he plans to attend Friday's rally. 

The event promises to be different from past climate actions in Phoenix. Previous town halls, protests, rallies, and walkouts have focused on infrastructural changes. They've featured state legislators as speakers, and they've drawn around 100 to 200 people — a fraction of the participation expected on Friday.

This time, no elected officials will be speaking. "They've kind of monopolized the conversation," Narayanan said, before quickly adding that the group nevertheless appreciates its elected allies. "We'd rather have earnest testimony — we'd rather have them listen to the youth."

The rally will also be "a lot more intersectional," Narayanan said, with indigenous, Latinx, and African-American groups slated to participate. Latino environmental advocacy group Chispa Arizona and local chapters of Elders for Climate Action and the youth climate group Sunrise Movement would be there, she said.

The sheer number of people who have signed up is "more than we've ever had before." She acknowledged that not everyone who pledges to show is guaranteed to, but she still expects at least 400 people.

Another global strike is scheduled for September 27.

Narayanan attributed the increased interest to an increasing sense of urgency, among Phoenicians and Arizonans, over climate change. Recent news stories laying out the ongoing consequences of climate change — the deadly heat, looming water cutbacks, and rising utility costs — have forced people to acknowledge global warming's impact on their lives.

With a 2 p.m. start time, a lot of seniors who plan to attend the strike won't actually have to miss much school, Narayanan said, but she plans to skip the full day and call in sick.

"I don't have time to go to school," she said, "because I have something more important to do."

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